by T. Austin-Sparks
Chapter 10 - Family Life and Characteristics
The first thing to take into account is the desire and the design of the Father for His family. Surely everything begins there with the family, and when we ask ourselves what the desire and the design of our Father is for His spiritual family, there is but one answer. And that answer is given to us in a statement which itself includes a family title: "Foreordained to be conformed to the image of His son". Conformity to the image of the Firstborn is the desire and the design of the Father for the whole family.
The family is to take its character from the Firstborn. There is to be a family likeness, and, so far as this family is concerned, the family likeness is to be according to the firstborn. That is, that what is true of Christ has to become true of the whole family. The characteristics and traits of the Lord Jesus have to be reproduced in every subsequent child and member of the family. That being the desire and the design of the Father made known to all His children, if they are to be obedient children, children of God in very truth, then they will lay to heart His desire and realise that their main business is the satisfaction of the Father's heart in the development of those features of the firstborn. The New Testament is occupied with that; indeed all the Scriptures are occupied with that. The Old Testament is concerned in a typical way with the reproducing of the features of Christ. The New Testament is most clearly one great collective, accumulative appeal and urge for the realisation of Christ-likeness.
It seems that when the Lord Jesus chose His twelve disciples there was, at the back of the choice and back of the purpose of having a company of men always with Him - the intention of showing and expressing what the character of the firstborn is so far as relationship to other members of the family is concerned. To put that in another way: if we study the characteristics of the Lord Jesus in relation to His own when He was here on the earth, we have a good example of what family characteristics are in the thought of the Father. For instance, take the imperfections, the shortcomings, the weaknesses of the twelve and see what the attitude of the Lord Jesus was toward them. The Holy Spirit takes no pains to cover up those faults and those flaws. There is no attempt made whatever to present those men as an ideal group. Their picture is painted true to life and all the difficult lines are there - the bad and the good - and nothing unpleasant is hidden from view. None of the lines are taken out of their faces. They are all clearly seen. The Lord Jesus was not dealing with an easy company, but a company which might often have provoked despair. But one thing was characteristic of Him in relation to a difficult handful, and that was His faith for them.
What faith the Lord Jesus had for those men! It was not that He had faith in them, neither was it that He had faith for them because of what He saw in them; but He had infinite faith in the Father for them. His attitude was: "Well, nothing is impossible with God. Here are these men; they are difficult and they could easily be My despair; they never seem to understand what I say! They always seem to get the wrong interpretation, they always seem to miss the point. When I say a thing they get it from an altogether wrong angle; they are utterly materialistic in their outlook, in their expectation and in their desires. They never see far beyond this world and their own personal interests. They seem totally incapable of getting a spiritual conception. And yet the Father can do wonders with a handful of men like that; nothing is impossible."
How often His words to them indicated their slowness and their dullness in the realm of His spiritual mind. "O foolish men, how long shall I be with you?" "Do you not yet understand?" and right at the end: "O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken. Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things?" And yet He never gave them up, never abandoned them as hopeless, but exhibited infinite faith for them.
That represents something about the Firstborn which must of necessity become a family characteristic. We shall never get very far as a family unless that is reproduced in us, unless we have infinite and implicit faith in the Father concerning one another. Some of us are exceedingly difficult to get on with, exceedingly difficult to understand and perhaps exceedingly difficult to love in the natural way. There is a challenge in that. The easiest thing in the world would be to draw unto ourselves and away from such. The most difficult thing perhaps will be to go on in perfect confidence and faith that a big change will take place and that there will be tremendous differences made if only we wait long enough. The Lord Jesus had that faith in the Father for these men and that has got to become a characteristic of the family. Yes! faith for the most hopeless. How little patience we have!
Nature comes in here so often, and nature takes the measurement at once according to nature and fixes the value and says: "Well, they will never be anything much more than that". And so they are consigned to the category of those of a certain measurement and a certain capacity, and nothing more is expected or hoped for; and they are despised more or less. We just go on and leave them to get on as best as they can. They know that they have been weighed up and that we do not have very much room for them. Do you think that that is going to be a way of development, increase and helpful expansion? Never! What we have done has been to put the measure of what they are by nature, upon what they are by grace, and fix them in that measure. We have, in other words, not allowed for the possibilities of grace in the most impossible person.
We must seek the Lord for that grace which believes that the most impossible one can be made very possible through grace. A parenthetical word may be helpful here. We are not speaking about office, and appointment, and responsibility for work, and that sort of thing. If we have got to put trust in people so far as official responsibility is concerned, we shall have to use wisdom in their measurement and how far they can be trusted. But we are not speaking about that side of things. We are speaking about the ordinary relationships, the fellowship of the family and the increase and development of Christ in one another by mutual relationships. For it is in these relationships that the increase of Christ is to be brought about. There are possibilities for the development of the spiritual life along the line of fellowship which do not exist in the realm of isolation. The existence of isolated members means limitation in the extreme. Relationship and fellowship, is God's way of increase. And so we have got to note the law by which that increase comes about, and this is one of them: faith for one another, even though we may not have faith in another.
It is a very important thing, and what those disciples owed to that faith for them on the part of the Lord Jesus, perhaps we shall never know. They, with ourselves, will at some time in eternity simply have to say to the Lord Jesus: "I am here and what I am, and if ever I have been used at all by the Lord for His glory and satisfaction is because You did not take me at my own measure". We owe a great deal to the Lord's faith for us, and that is why He does not give us up. We must have the same spirit in our relationships with one another.
Running alongside of that we see His devotion to those disciples. There is one matchless declaration in which that devotion is summed up: "Having loved His own which were in the world, He loved them unto the end." He gave Himself to them. He spent Himself for them. He did not walk in reservations: "Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." It is a family feature, the Firstborn is doing this for the rest of the family, and that which is true of the Firstborn is to be developed in the family.
That covers a good deal of ground which we are not staying to deal with in detail. We simply say it in a broad, inclusive and comprehensive way, and illustrate it by those simple points, that what is true of the Firstborn is the Father's design and desire to make true of all the family. The family shall take its character from the Firstborn and be conformed to His image.
Recognising that, there are some things which are basic fundamentally to that, without which that is all impossible and by which alone we can do this.
The first and primary thing is the absolute necessity for knowing one another after the Spirit. "The love of Christ constrains us; because we thus judge, that one died for all, therefore all died; and he died for all, that they which live should no longer live unto themselves, but unto Him"; "Henceforth know we no man after the flesh." That means that as far as we can see, we have not made what we are by nature the final basis of our relationships, of our expectations, of our judgements, of our appraisals, of our valuations. It does not mean that we are oblivious of one another's human nature. It does not mean that what we are in the flesh never strikes us; that we are to be totally insensible to the defects of one another's nature. No! we shall always be sensitive. It is probably true that the more spiritual we are, the more sensitive we become to what we are by nature and to what others are by nature. Perhaps we shall suffer all the more because of the defects and imperfections, the strengths and the weaknesses of one another naturally.
Men of the world have but a very, very minute degree of the difficulty that Christians have of getting on with one another. They seem to be able to ignore and ride over one another's difficult parts and make-up. It seems that Christians are much more alive to that sort of thing than others, and are touched by it more keenly. Of course, we can explain that along two lines. If we become spiritually sensitive the flesh is sensed very much more quickly; what is not spiritual registers itself upon spiritual sensitiveness. There is also the fact that we have an adversary to reckon with who is always seeking to make a lot of the imperfections and brings them up and hits us with them. He is at work in this matter of seeking to upset the relationships of the Lord's people. He never tires of that. Not knowing one another after the flesh does not mean that all that realm will cease to exist for us, but it does mean that we shall look beyond that realm and we shall steadily seek grace and the help of the Holy Spirit to cultivate and develop a determination to look through what we are by nature to what there is of the Lord Jesus and of the Holy Spirit in one another, and keep our eyes upon that.
The Lord holds us responsible for doing a thing like that. We know that if we begin to talk about and dwell upon the imperfections of the Lord's children and criticise, the Lord smites us inwardly and says: "That is My child". He does not mean that is not true of them by nature, but He says: "There is something else there that is very precious to Me; be careful you do not damage that". That is knowing after the Spirit.
We do not see how it is possible for us to have faith for one another and to be truly devoted to one another in the sense in which the Lord was devoted to His disciples unless we look past nature in one another to that which is of the Lord. It is there that we fasten all our hope and expectation, and it is there that we have to find our fellowship. Our relationship is now not in the flesh, it is in the Spirit, and we must seek continually to fight against a relationship which is purely in the natural and maintain a relationship in the spiritual, inwardly. It is basic.
Love, forbearance, patience... all these things demand that there should be something more than nature upon which we are working. With all the forbearance that we can exercise, and all the love that we can show, there is no hope for anyone if there is not something more than this there. And it is upon that "something more" that our eyes have to be fixed, and it is there that we have to place the main value. "Your mother and your brethren are without asking for you"! "These are my mother and my brethren, that hear the word of God and do it." There is another kind of relationship from that of the flesh. True relationship is that beyond; with those who are seeking to walk with the Lord. And that is where our only hope is.
There is, of course, the other side and we must not forget this. There is a responsibility resting upon us for walking in the Spirit. It is all very well, of course, to say we must look always for the something extra, the something other in one another. But we must not make too great a demand upon other people for doing that. We must not lay too much store by a thing like that and say: "Well, they have got to know me after the spirit and not after the flesh". And thus put a big tax upon them to do it. That is rather making light of our imperfections and saying: "Oh well, I am made like that, and you will just have to take me as I am made; I am by nature an impulsive Peter you know, and the Lord loved impulsive Peter; and you will have to love me, though I am impulsive." Yes, but Peter was a changed man when the Holy Ghost got hold of him, and to talk about our human weaknesses and our natural imperfections and make light of them is rather in the direction of saying that we do not know very much about the mastery of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
We may be naturally quick tempered. Well, there have been many good men who were naturally quick tempered, and the Lord loved them, and they were children of God. It is easy to talk like that, but grace does count for something, and the Holy Spirit does represent something, and we must not make too much demand upon one another. There is a responsibility for walking in the Spirit and as we walk in the Spirit we shall find fellowship far more possible and far more profitable. If you walk in the Spirit and I walk not in the Spirit, or very much more in nature than you do, you may exercise a very great deal of this high spiritual character in bearing with me and forbearing; but fellowship will not be as profitable as it might be, and our glorifying of the Lord might not be as great as it might be if I were also walking as positively in the Spirit as you. A very great deal does depend upon our walking in the Spirit so that we can know one another after the Spirit. Oh! that we could provide one another with a large measure of what is the Spirit, so that there may be a knowing which is profitable. On the one hand allowance for one another, and on the other hand seeking positively to help one another over our respective imperfections.
That is family life. In the family which is a family indeed, all the members know one another and their attitude would be: "Well, that is So-and-so; we know him, we know her, and we therefore make allowances because we know them". But do we try, as we are able, to help them to be other than they are? That is bringing it down to an ordinary, natural level of things. But lift that into the spiritual, and it has this parallel: we must know one another and in our hearts make allowances because we know that is just So-and-so; but then, not because we know them just leave them to it, but seek in love to help in that direction. That must be quite mutual: helping to develop in one another the grace of the Lord Jesus. There is such a thing, after all, as praying for one another is there not? And it counts for much to pray for one another, even when we cannot do it in a more direct way with one another.
We are of noble birth. We are a royal family. Every member of this family, every child of God, everyone related to such a Prince as the Lord Jesus, should seek to exhibit that spiritual dignity that upholds the honour of the family and never allows anyone to have a reason to think or say that to be a Christian is to be something less than the best, the noblest, the finest. The world has often had reason to think very lightly and very little of many Christians, that they are less than the best. You and I, remembering our royal degree, should seek spiritual dignity to maintain the honour of the Name which we bear, that before others Christ's Name might be a great Name and a glorious Name as it rests upon us.
That, of course, calls for much and should lead us continually to seek the Lord diligently and earnestly that we might be marked by strength before men - holy strength, divine strength - and every other quality which is an expression of such a One as the Lord Jesus is. The Lord make us worthy to bear His Name in the family.
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