by T. Austin-Sparks
There is one thing among the pre-eminent things - if it is not the pre-eminent thing - and a thing which includes so much, for which we should be constantly seeking the Lord. This one thing should be the object concerning which we are drawn out in prayer all the time. That thing is spirituality; in the true divine sense. There is very little doubt but that everything depends upon the measure of our spirituality. Everything is bound up with a spiritual state. We cannot estimate how important this is. True, pure spirituality of the divine kind, makes everything possible. There is a spirituality which is not of the divine kind, and there are many counterfeits of spirituality. So we stress the true, and the pure, and divine spirituality. It is concerning this that we shall be occupied for a little while.
There are two things in the main in the letter to the Ephesians which constitute and represent spirituality according to God. The one is the Holy Spirit; the other is what is meant by the word "heavenlies". If we took the references to the Holy Spirit alone in the letter to the Ephesians we should get the key to the fulness of Christ. We shall pass hurriedly over those references, and we shall see, in the summing up of them, that we have the basis of everything else. Let us run quickly over the letter.
Four Facts Concerning the Holy Spirit
In the first place we have the facts concerning the Holy Spirit as to the life of the believer, and in two passages we are told of the initial act of the Holy Spirit when faith in the Lord Jesus has been exercised. That act is
1. The Sealing of the Spirit
Ephesians 1:13: "In whom you also, having heard the word of the truth, the gospel of your salvation, in whom, having also believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise".
There is a fact: you were sealed when you believed, and the seal was the gift of the Holy Spirit Himself. That is not only something done and finished; it secures everything else, as implied by the last clause: "the Holy Spirit of promise". That points on to the inheritance. Ephesians 4:30: "And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, in whom you were sealed unto the day of redemption".
The first fact, then, is the sealing of the Spirit, by which we are made God's spiritual people.
2. Introduction into the Presence of God
Ephesians 2:18: "For through Him we both have our access in one Spirit unto the Father".
That clearly says that we are introduced into the presence of the Father by the Spirit. "They that worship Him must worship in spirit and truth"; "God is a Spirit". The Lord put those words over against the formal, traditional worship in Mount Gerizim and in Jerusalem, and implied that in neither of those places was there really a genuine coming into the presence of God. It was historic worship, and as for coming into the presence of God, that was quite another thing. Now the question is of coming right into fellowship with God, and that is in spirit and in truth, representing a spiritual state. The spiritual state is essential for the presence of God, and that is represented by the Holy Spirit Himself being in possession, to bring us into living fellowship with the Father.
3. The Indwelling of the Spirit
The third fact is in the same chapter, Ephesians 2:22: "In whom you also are built together for a habitation of God in the Spirit".
The church is the dwelling place of God in the Spirit; God the Holy Spirit dwelling in the church, the Body of Christ; thus making this a spiritual building, a spiritual habitation, a spiritual Body, a spiritual church; defining quite clearly what the church is - a spiritual thing by reason of the Holy Spirit indwelling.
4. Revelation by the Holy Spirit
Ephesians 3:5: "Which in other generations was not made known unto the sons of men, as it has now been revealed unto His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit".
Revelation by the Spirit is a constituent of the Body of Christ, the Lord's people. They are made a spiritual people because they have spiritual revelation. Something which has been reserved for revelation unto and by the Body of Christ, hidden - there, but unrevealed. But now the Body, the vessel, has been brought into being, unto which that secret was reserved, and the Holy Spirit is the Revealer of the secret. It is because of the nature and fact of that revelation that the church is a spiritual Body. The passage in chapter 1 verse 17 corresponds with that:
"That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him".
The Revised Version uses a small "s" for "spirit" there, by which the revisers intend to imply that it is not the Holy Spirit that is being spoken of, but it is quite open to question as to whether such wisdom and revelation can be had apart from the Holy Spirit.
These are the four facts concerning the Holy Spirit in this letter, which make for spirituality.
Four Features of the Holy Spirit
There are also four features of the Holy Spirit in this Ephesian letter.
1. Strengthened Inwardly by the Spirit
Ephesians 3:16: "That He would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, that you may be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inward man".
The strength of the Lord's people is none other than the strength of the Holy Spirit in the inward man. Right at the very centre of the being, deeper than thought or reason, deeper than emotion or feeling, deeper than all that which comprises the more outward man which, under given circumstances, may prove weak and incapable of standing up to the situation. In the variations of our soul life, the changes of our moods, our ideas, our attitudes, our feelings, our minds; deeper down there is that strength which does not let us go. That is the true nature of spirituality. It is not the tremendously forceful conviction of our intellects or the mighty power of our wills. When these cannot stand up to conditions of intense spiritual antagonism, opposition or perplexity, there is that more inward thing, right in the inward man, which is of God - the Holy Spirit: "Strengthened with might by His Spirit into the inward man".
Test that out and the result is that when the mind is bewildered by the perplexity of a situation, and the arguments are all in the direction that a mistake has been made, a wrong course has been taken, everything is false - when all the feelings are churned up, disturbed, anxious, fearful, or when there are no feelings at all, they are simply petrified by the position - when circumstances are all arguing in the opposite direction of that which we, in the purest moments of our fellowship with God determined upon. The world around us - and very closely around us, even within the sphere of our own natural life, our own soul life - is an inexplicable mystery. Then spirituality is proved by that inward strength which abides. That standing when you cannot go forward; that holding when you can do nothing; that remaining when all the forces are seeking to sweep you off your feet. That represents a measure of spirituality. That is the true nature of the child of God. The opposite is to be carried away by argument, reasoning, appearance, circumstance, and all such things. That proves a lack of true spirituality.
In a sentence, true spirituality is not to live on the outside; it is to live with God right down deep in the inner part of your own being, where He, the Spirit, is.
2. The Unity of the Spirit
The second feature is in Ephesians 4:3: "Giving diligence to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace".
It is something which exists; something which is a part of the very fact that the Holy Spirit has been received by more than one person. If it is true that we have been baptized by one Spirit into one Body, and the very fact that more than one member has received the Holy Spirit - or the very fact that there is such a thing as the Body of Christ - carries with it implicitly the fact of a unity. It is not something to be brought about; it is something which exists and which has to be recognised as existing.
How true that was in the case of Israel, as revealed in the book of Joshua. They were brought up against the existence of this fact in a very sharp way. When Achan sinned, an individual member of the whole mighty host, every other single member of that host was affected and arrested, and the Lord's word was: "Israel has sinned"; not: Achan has sinned. In that way they came to see at least one method of keeping the unity, that is, not doing what Achan did. Our business, as this word clearly shows, and as we have heard many times, is not to try and make the unity of the Spirit - that is already there - but to give diligence to keep it. And to obey that injunction is very often a matter of very deep and mighty exercise before God. It represents some battles sometimes to keep the unity of the Spirit. A feature of spirituality, therefore, is diligence to keep the unity of the Spirit. Putting that round the other way, it is no mark of real spiritual life and growth to easily be divided in spirit from other believers. If it is easy to allow a strain upon fellowship to work out to rupture, to schism, to division, to separation, then the spiritual life is very low indeed.
The third feature of the Spirit, and therefore of spirituality, is found in Ephesians 4:30: "And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, in whom you were sealed unto the day of redemption."
We all know more or less in our hearts what this means. We know, to some extent, what it means when the Holy Spirit in us is grieved. The measure in which we know that is the measure of our spirituality. We are compelled from time to time to wonder within ourselves as to the real measure of spirituality in some who seem to be able to do so much, say so much, that is altogether contrary to the Lord, and never seem to have a real pulling up from within. Spirituality means that whenever you or I speak detrimentally or disparagingly about another member of Christ, we have a bad time and have to go and ask the Lord to put that right. Spirituality means that, altogether apart from our firsthand knowledge of a situation, if we allow ourselves to go contrary to God in that, we shall know it. There is no need for us to acquaint ourselves with all the facts of every situation mentally in order to know the right and the wrong about that.
There is a realm in which it is our business to prove all things and to acquaint ourselves with facts, but if we were to give ourselves over as a matter of business to doing that in every connection, we should never do anything else. If God is in a thing and I begin to speak detrimentally of that and take an antagonistic attitude, I am pulled up from inside, apart from any intellectual knowledge of that thing. The Holy Spirit is jealous for the children of God, individually and collectively, and spirituality means you dare not put your hand upon things that are precious to the Lord. If you do, you know it. At the time you may not know why, but later on perhaps you do know. If only we were governed by the Holy Spirit we should know where we can be uncompromising with the jealousy of God, and not do wrong, and where, on the other hand, we must bear with certain things which are not positively evil, but perhaps features of immaturity and unenlightenment. But where there is a pure, true, attitude towards the Lord, there is a sensitiveness that is a feature of true spirituality; a sensitiveness to the Holy Spirit who has all the intelligence that can be had about everyone and everything. To be making progress spiritually is to become increasingly sensitive to the Holy Spirit and to know when the Spirit is grieved.
4. Being Filled with the Spirit
Ephesians 5:18: "And be not drunken with wine, wherein is riot, but be filled with the Spirit."
The following things represent an aspect of what it means to be filled with the Spirit:
Verse 19: "Speaking one to another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord".
Verse 20: "Giving thanks always for all things, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father".
Verse 21: "Subjecting yourselves one to another in the fear of Christ".
A good many people seem to think that to be filled with the Spirit is to get on top of everybody else. Here it says that to be filled with the Spirit is to subject yourselves one to another in the fear of Christ.
These are the four features of the Spirit, which constitute spirituality. There are two other references to the Spirit in this letter, which comprise:
The Conditions of the Spirit and of Spirituality
1. The Word of God
Ephesians 6:17: "And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God."
It is important for us to remember that the Holy Spirit does not move apart from the Word of God. In the corresponding Old Testament portion, the book of Joshua, we see that Joshua, as representing the energies of the Holy Spirit, took up what came by Moses, that is, the Word of the Lord. And everything that Joshua did was: "As the Lord spoke unto Moses". So that the Holy Spirit takes up the Word to make it live, and to bring us into the value of it. Unto that it is necessary that the Word of God dwell in us richly.
It is not enough, of course, to have the letter, but the letter being there provides the Holy Spirit with what is essential to Him for effectiveness. The Word of God should be in us in the hands of the Holy Spirit. We have to deplore the pathetic ignorance of the Word of God among so many Christians today. It is not always the immediate benefit from reading the Word that matters. Very often a word read, with no immediate and instant profit or conscious good in the course of the day or hours, or perhaps days afterwards, suddenly comes back in some connection, and is alive. The Holy Spirit has taken hold of something that was there. Having the Word has got to be regarded as a bit of duty or business, and the Lord will make use of that as He wills as we go on. It is important that the Word of God should be there; otherwise the Holy Spirit Himself is unable to lead us on unto the fulness of Christ.
Ephesians 6:18: "With all prayer and supplication praying at all seasons in the spirit, and watching thereunto in all perseverance and supplication for all the saints".
Spirituality demands a background of prayer. The context of this passage is a very true one, that is, that it is set in a realm of conflict. Ephesians 4 is the conflict of the believer, and prayer is set in the realm of conflict. We know that the prayer life is the thing against which the battle rages, and for which we have to put up a real fight. If the enemy can in any way destroy or weaken our prayer life, he is sapping and mining for a future day. We may not immediately feel the detriment, but let a week or a fortnight pass in which prayer has been weakened, and a situation will arise which we are unable to meet, and which finds us weakened. Prayer is a condition of spirituality.
That covers the letter from that standpoint, as to what spirituality is. Now we can go through the letter again with the other word which represents spirituality.
We keep strictly to the original word. "Heavenly places" is what is in our context and in the Revised Version those two words are in italics, which helps us to see what was originally there. So we use the word "heavenlies".
Ephesians 1:3: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Christ..."
"Has blessed us" is the text. That is the position in which we are found right at the beginning of the book of Joshua, that is, God "has given". All the land is given. The position here is we are in the land when we are in Christ, and being in Christ, all that is in Christ is ours.
We may not yet have appropriated, appreciated, understood or enjoyed the value of it, but it is secured to us in Him. The inheritance is secured in Christ. Every spiritual blessing has been secured unto us in Him. "Has blessed us". We must remember that from God's standpoint the land of Canaan did not belong to the seven nations who occupied it. When Israel went in, their attitude virtually, from God's standpoint, was: "Get out of my land!" The enemy was saying: "This is my country, and you are an invader." No! It was just the opposite: they were the usurpers. That land had been secured by God; it was His. It was covenanted. Long before Israel was a nation it was God's. Those people occupied it only under sufferance for the time being, and Israel's attitude was: You are in my country.
That is exactly the position in the letter to the Ephesians. The forces now occupying the heavenlies, the principalities and powers, the world-rulers of this darkness, the spiritual hosts of wickedness are not in their native land; they have usurped the place that the Lord's people ought to have. It is ours already. The spiritual value of that is secured unto us in Christ. Ephesians 1:20-21: "Which He wrought in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead, and made Him to sit at His right hand in the heavenlies, far above all rule, and authority, and power, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come".
All that needs to be pointed out in connection with this is that the Lord Jesus, as Head of the church, is there. The Head being there, the whole Body is implied. As Head He occupies the pre-eminent place in the heavenlies. That of course means that the whole Body is to take its character from the Head, and to have all its relationships with the Head. There cannot be a separation between the Head and the rest of the Body. The relationship remains intact, and the Head is in heaven.
That leads to the second and corresponding passage. Ephesians 2:6: "And raised us up with Him, and made us to sit with Him in the heavenlies, in Christ Jesus". Because the Head is there, the whole Body is represented as being there also. They are a heavenly people. Spirituality is this: that we recognise that we are in Christ a heavenly people and that we have no other connection with this earth and with this world, than of testifying in it. Ephesians 3:10: "To the intent that now unto the principalities and the powers in the heavenlies might be made known through the church the manifold wisdom of God".
If you notice what precedes that, and what follows that, you will see that the eternal secrets of God are now being disclosed to heavenly orders by the instrumentality of the church. You go backwards, and you find God possessed of eternal thoughts, eternal intentions, eternal ways, and yet not disclosing them so that even celestial beings and spiritual bodies of both orders are in ignorance: "Which things angels desire to look into". He has covered them even from the angels, angels of various ranks, corresponding to the principalities and powers, the world rulers of this darkness, spiritual hosts. From both of these orders these divine secrets are hidden through ages. And then God brings the church, the Body of Christ, into being, and in the way in which He deals with that church in its formation, in its training, in its experience, in its government, His order, His appointments, His methods, His unveilings, He is educating these other realms. "That now (this is not in the ages to come) unto the principalities and powers... through the church the manifold wisdom of God." Spirituality means to have grasped something of that.
We are very materialistic in our Christianity; materialistic in this sense, that we are so dominated by what the world thinks and sees and knows, and we are so obsessed with the apparent and the manifest results of work or life. We are materialistic in the counting of heads, in statistics, in results seen, in something that can be appraised by the senses that can be shown to the world. The whole Christian system of work is a matter of what can be reported and what can be announced, what can be put on the advertisement pages of the religious press and what can be offered as a basis of appeal. It originates from man's obsession that what counts is, after all, what is seen as the result.
Ephesians carries us right away from this world, and says: There is something else going on which cannot be seen. Daniel prayed for twenty-one days, and saw nothing happening the whole time. Daniel might have been tempted to say: What is the good of prayer? Certainly Daniel could not have gone out after a fortnight, or even after twenty days, and published a book on the results of prayer as seen in this world. But on the twenty-first day he discovered that the whole twenty-one days had been marked by a terrific upheaval in the universe. Principalities and powers had got to work, heavenly orders and Satanic orders were in conflict because he prayed. He may have had an echo of that conflict in his own spirit and found that he was in a battle registering something in heaven, and he had to fight through; but as to seeing anything or being intelligent with any kind of natural intelligence, that realm was perfectly barren; and yet the mightiest things were happening. We know from his book that the whole range of the ages was being touched, right on to the end, to the coming of the Lord, in the day when the Kingdom is given to the saints of the Most High. That was being fought out.
Spirituality is to get to the back of things seen, and to be in the great heavenly things that God is working out, and recognise that when we can see nothing, something is happening. The real sphere of the church's work is not here on this earth. It is in the realm which governs this earth, at the back of what is taking place here. Our impact must be registered upon the forces which govern this world. Spirituality is tested not by how many you can count as the result of your labours here, but by the registration of the Throne of the Lord upon spiritual forces, and by the educative value of God's dealings with His own people.
That may be strange, it may even be mystical to some. Do not worry if you cannot enter into that, but here it is; and it is an important thing, and a real feature of spirituality. Ask the Lord to explain that to you, when you are asking Him to teach you what spirituality is.
Ephesians 4:10: "He that descended is the same also that ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things". Our only comment upon that for the moment is that fulness comes from the heavens. The heavens are always a type of universality. You may even get away from the sea, but you cannot get away from the heavens. The heavens will bound you wherever you go, and the heavens being a type of universality and of fulness, say to us through this passage that, inasmuch as He ascended on high that He might fill all things, the heavenly people are destined to be the expression of the fulness of Christ.
"Filled unto all the fulness of God"; "The church which is His body, the fulness of Him that fills all in all". That is a very familiar thought, but it comes here in the course of our consideration of what is spirituality. It is recognising that fulness depends upon our being related to heaven, and inasmuch as we are bound by this world, we are limited spiritually.
Ephesians 6:10-12: "Finally, be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world-rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenlies".
Spirituality is a matter of possessing our possessions in Christ, and, in order to do that, we have to dispossess the enemy of that territory. We must not get an objective mentality about that. We must remember that this territory which, in other words, is Christ in His excellency, His spiritual and moral glories and in all that He is for us from God, should be occupied by Him in those things as now occupied by the enemy. Look into our own hearts. That ground which should be occupied by the life of Christ is occupied by the enemy in hatred, and malice, and evil thinking, and evil speaking, and so on. The enemy has got to be dispossessed, and his goods cast out, and that ground occupied by the Lord Jesus. That is gaining Christ. That represents a conflict and a conquest, and that means that the enemy is going to challenge us on that ground and it is not going to be easy. It is not ground to be a walk-over to get rid of the Satanic provocation to evil thinking and evil speaking and such like things. It is not simply that those things are there by nature: they are stimulated by the enemy, so that even when we would show love there is something working which is in addition to ourselves - a strength which is not the strength merely of our evil nature, but the strength of the enemy working upon some ground in us. That means we have to get away and have a real battle, and say: I will fight through, until I can show love and forbearance in that particular direction. That gets you away from the cloudy idea of the heavenlies, and shows that heavenliness is something within, and it is a matter of conquest by a challenge to every step of the territory, until we are conformed to the image of Christ, and Christ is fully formed in us.