Companions of Christ and the Heavenly Calling

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 1 - The Purpose of Companions

Shall we proceed with our special line of meditation. May I just say a word about the nature of this ministry because the one object in view is the glory of the Lord Jesus; that stands over everything. But as to the method of the ministry, this is not strictly a time for preaching; it is a time especially for instruction in the things of the Lord. That means that there is a work side to it; it is something that we have to apply ourselves, and work in the Word of God. But when we have said that, of course, it is a time for exhortation and a time for encouragement in the spiritual life. Having said that, let us come to the Word.

In the letter to the Hebrews, chapter 3, verse 1: "Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling..."

Verse 14, "We are becoming partakers of Christ if we hold fast the beginning of our confidence firm unto the end."

Now, in accordance with what I said just now about working, we are going to work for a minute or two with one word. In the two verses which we have read, this one word occurs. In this translation it is the word "partakers": "partakers of a heavenly calling," "partakers with Christ". That one Greek word is translated into a number of other words in our New Testament, as here it is partakers and in two other places in this letter to the Hebrews it is so translated; chapter 6 and verse 4, and chapter 12 and verse 8. I'm not going to read all these verses or we should do nothing else for all the morning.

In Luke's gospel chapter 5 and verse 7 the same word is translated "partners". In the first chapter of Hebrews again, and verse 9, it is translated "fellows", "God hath anointed thee... above thy fellows". It is the same word: "above thy partakers, thy partners, thy fellows" and in other forms the word occurs quite a number of times in the New Testament. In Hebrews 2:14 it is "take part of". A number of times in the first letter to the Corinthians it is "be partakers of". Today in Hebrews 7:13 it is "pertain unto". You will see that in every case it refers to a relationship.

I have looked very carefully into this word and I have found that its true and deepest meaning is not given us in many of these translations. It ought to be translated into the word: "companions". So that what we ought to read is this: "holy brethren, companions of a heavenly calling... we are becoming companions of Christ if we hold fast". So, putting these two verses together, we are going, in these days, to be occupied with Companions of Christ and the Heavenly Calling.

Companions of Christ and Companions of the Heavenly Calling

This idea of companions runs right through the Bible. Behind everything that is official in relationship to the Lord, there is always a personal element. Remember Abraham, Abraham was a great servant of the Lord and he served the Lord very faithfully, but the deepest thing about Abraham was that he was God's friend. God spoke of Abraham as, "My friend". That carries with it this idea of companions of God.

Moses was a great servant of the Lord. The Lord often spoke of Moses as "Moses My servant," but we know that there was something deeper in it than that. God spoke with Abraham [should be Moses] as "a friend speaketh to his friend". There was a very intimate relationship between God and Moses, and Moses and God. In reality Moses was a companion of the Lord.

And what about David? We can say many things about David, but the greatest thing ever said was "he's a man after My own heart". And that is the meaning of a companion of the Lord.

Now, when the Lord Jesus came onto this earth, He chose His disciples and apostles on the basis of companionship. Call them disciples if you like - those who had got to enter the school of Christ and be taught; call them apostles if you like - those who were to be sent forth by Him. But the deepest thing in their relationship to Him was that they were His companions. Toward the end of their time He said, "Ye are they which hath continued with Me in My tribulation" - companions in life, and companions in suffering.

When we come to the church it is not some official, ecclesiastical institution; that's very cold, that is very formal, that is very distant. But when the Lord speaks about His church, He always speaks of it in terms of love, "the church of God which He purchased with His own blood... Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it". Perhaps we have got to recover this idea about the church, it is called to be the companion of Christ. Its deepest relationship with Him is a heart relationship - just to be His companion in life, in work, in suffering, and in glory.

Now, having said a word about the idea of companions, let us go on in the second place to think of:

The Purpose of Companions.

The Bible is a book of one purpose. That one purpose lies behind all its stages and all its phases. That one purpose lies behind creation. It lies behind Divine foreknowledge. It lies behind election. It lies behind the person whom God chose. It lies behind all the movements of God through the Bible. It lies behind all the figures and all the types. It lies behind the three main sections of the Old Testament: the section of priesthood, followed by the section of kingship, and then followed by the section of the prophets. Those three sections comprise the Old Testament. Behind everything in the Old Testament lies one purpose. In the Bible God is revealed as a God of purpose; ever moving in His sovereignty as governed by this one purpose.

What is this one purpose in and through all? It is centred in God's Son. In all things God has His Son alone in view. The "all things" is a very comprehensive term, but all is comprehended by God's Son. As we are going to dwell very much in this letter to the Hebrews, take note of this very factor at the beginning of this letter. The first great statement is concerning all God's past ways and methods: in time past God moved by this means and by that means, in this way and in that way, but at the end of those times He concentrates in His Son - He gathers all that up together and focuses it in His Son.

The Son of God comprehends the whole of the Old Testament and all of God's ways in the Old Testament. And then to emphasise that, this letter goes on through the first two chapters to bring the greatness of God's son into view. You know the wonderful things said about God's Son in the first chapter, here is the One who is above all others, who comprehends all else in the thought of God. So, God's interest in His Son is brought before us right at the beginning and the declaration is that God's purposes all centre in His Son. That Son is now known unto man as Jesus Christ, but the point here is this: having introduced and presented the Son, and having magnified the Son, the Holy Spirit through the writer goes on in this way (and there ought to be no break in chapters here), "Wherefore for this reason, because of this, because of God's purpose in sending His Son, because of the infinite greatness of the Son, greater than all others and all else, for that reason, holy brethren, you are called into companionship, companionship with God's Son and companionship in the heavenly calling of God's Son".

Now we come to our third point in this connection. There are two principles related to Divine purpose throughout the Bible. The first is what we have just pointed out: God works ever, and always, and only in relation to His purpose. The statement of the apostle Paul is, about God, that "He worketh all things after the counsel of His Divine will", and that will is centred in His Son. He therefore works ever, always and only in relation to His Son.

The Bible contains almost uncountable things... what a great mass of things there are in the Bible! Things which God created, and things which God used. And then what a lot of persons there are that God laid His hand upon; a whole multitude of persons. And then how many are the different ways that God used to realise His purpose - the ways of God are very many! The means that He employs... the Bible is just full of these things. Then we have God's blessings; God is very often found blessing people and blessing things.

On the other hand, there are the judgments of God, here are God's judgments and the Bible contains many of the judgments of God. But when we have said all that, (and of course we can never really comprehend all that, this book is always far, far too big for us) but when we have said all that, not one of these things: persons, means used, blessings, or judgments, or anything else, is a thing in itself. If God is a God of creation, if God chooses men, if God uses things, if God blesses, or God judges, He always does so with one object in view: He created all things for His Son. That is a definite Bible statement. He took hold of these persons with His Son in view - so in Abraham and through Abraham, we see God's Son. Well, let us be content with making the statement.

If God blessed, it was because that thing stood right in line with His Son's interests. If you want the blessing of the Lord, get alongside of the Lord Jesus, be wholly committed to the Lord Jesus. The Father never sees us apart from the Lord Jesus, it is in Him that the blessing of God is to be found. If the Bible has much to say about Divine judgments (and how much is said by the prophets about the judgments of God!) it is because things then were contrary to His interests in His Son. God always keeps His eye focused upon His one object; that "object" is His Son.

God wastes nothing. He is not just interested in little things as such, the little things become very big things with God when they're related to His Son. Are you a very little person, very unimportant? If you are vitally related to His Son, God looks upon you as very important. But it is not your importance, nor mine, it is the importance of His Son. You see this is true about any, any faithful school teacher. I suppose all of us have been to school and we have had our school teachers, and some of us in our school days we did want to stand well with our teacher. We tried to please them because we wanted to be happy with our teacher and we wanted to get all that the teacher could do for us. But my recollection of school masters is this: they did not have me in view! The only thing that they had in view where I was concerned was how their object was going to be realised: they had got to have good scholars who passed examinations and came out tops, and everything that they thought of related to that end. Sometimes they would be very pleasant to me, and then I thought, "What a good boy am I!" and sometimes it was the other way and I knew something about the judgment that the school could give! Now, this was not because they liked me or disliked me, what they really did like was the end when the examination came. So everything about me was looked at in the light of the one object. Now, I don't like to call God a schoolmaster, but the principle is the same: He is looking at us in the light of His Son, "How does that man or that woman answer to My thought in My Son? How much of My Son is there in that man or that woman?" Later on we shall see how God works on that ground, but know this is a principle in God's purpose that leads us to the second principle.

While God is a God of purpose, ever moving in relation to that purpose, going on no matter what happens, going on with His Son, working on the ground of His own sovereign Lordship and no man can prevent Him, He is going to reach His end. That is why He has given us the book of the Revelation. Before we reach the end He has told us what it's going to be like, His purpose is going to be realised; nevertheless, He keeps to this other principle, He always:

Retains Man in a Place of Responsibility.

He never lets man off from responsibility. Why is that? Because His purpose in His Son is to be realised in man - the great corporate Man in which Christ is to have His fullness.

Christ is not going to realise God's purpose alone. He will not be in glory as just one isolated unit. So we come back to our verse, "Holy brethren, companions of the heavenly calling..." we are made companions of Christ if we will hold fast. Paul says that "the church is the fullness of Him that filleth all in all". Hence there is a responsibility resting upon man, and there is no book in the Bible which emphasises that more than the letter to the Hebrews. In that connection this letter is one of the most terrible letters in the Bible. [Brief loss of audio at this point.] ...Come about in this letter it is going to be the thing which governs all our consideration through these things.

If God takes up a vessel in relation to His purpose, it may be individuals, or it may be a company of people like Israel, or like the men who God took up in the Bible; if God takes up a vessel in relation to His purpose and that vessel does not respond to God's will, God will pass by that vessel and find another. He will call in others to take his place. This is, in the greatest instance, what we have regarding Israel. God chose Israel to be the vessel through which He would bring in His Son. Israel was called and chosen of God in relation to His Son and His purpose in His Son. And what did Israel do with His Son? They refused the Son and therefore they refused God's purpose and God put them aside and passed on. Jesus said, "Therefore shall the kingdom of heaven be taken from you and given to a nation bringing forth the fruit thereof." Now, this is the very meaning of this letter to the Hebrews as we shall see. No one can say of Israel now, "They are the companions of God". Israel was once the companion of God and the companion of God failed God. What a lot of light this throws upon the Lord Jesus calling Judas amongst the twelve. Judas was one of the twelve, called to be a companion and the companion betrayed His Lord. Israel was called to be the companion of God and Christ, Israel betrayed the Son of God, and Israel has suffered the doom of Judas: a companion set aside, rejected, while God's going on with His purpose and bringing in others to take their place.

So this explains this one little letter to the Hebrews, the letter of the place and the greatness of Jesus Christ. It sets forth the wonder of being called to be a companion of Christ and then it makes it so clear what a terrible thing it is for those who are called to be companions, to fail the Lord. It says, "How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation". You can never understand that phrase "so great salvation" until you understand the meaning of being a companion of Christ. Is there anything greater than being a companion of Jesus Christ? When you think of Who He is and when you think of all that God has purposed concerning His Son, and then to think that you and I are called to be companions of that Son of God... that is indeed a very great salvation! It is the "so great" salvation.

Well now, this morning we have spent our time just going round this one word, "companion". The New Testament is built around that one word, around the one idea of companions of Christ. Christ is first seen choosing His companions, and then He is seen teaching them by word and by deed, and then He is seen testing and sifting them.... Are they true companions? Or are they only associated with Him for what they are going to get from Him? You can have plenty of companions if you give them everything, if they can get all that they want from you, but what about the day when you can give them nothing but suffering and persecution, and everything that is against their natural interests? You can only offer them a place in the Father's house. So He sifted them, He tested them, and on more than one occasion it is said, "They walked no more with Him... from that day many of His disciples went away".

Companionship is something tested and sifted through adversity. If you have an extra lot of testing, an extra lot of suffering in your relationship with Christ, try to do this thing which we all find the most difficult thing to do: that is, He is seeking to have us as His closest companions in fellowship with Him not only in His glory, but in His suffering. So the relationship with Christ and in the gospels is on the basis of fellowship: oneness in life, oneness in purpose, oneness in experience, and oneness in discipline. Oneness in death, burial and resurrection. Oneness in His anointing; and then at last, oneness with Him in His heavenly glory.

I close this morning with this important word: we must realise that Jesus is repeating Himself in a spiritual way in this dispensation. When Luke wrote the book of the Acts he commenced with these words, "What Jesus began to do and to teach..." and Luke's implication is, "I am now going to write what He is going on doing and teaching". It is the same Jesus, He is doing the same work, and teaching the same things, but there is a difference; then it was by illustration in a temporal way, now it is the meaning of those things in a spiritual way. The meaning that was in the things then, is now in what He is doing with us in a spiritual way. If He opened physically blind eyes, He is now opening spiritually blind eyes and that's very much more important! Well, that's just an indication of what I mean, this same Jesus is going on with the same work in meaning now in you and in me! He is repeating His earthly life in a spiritual way. He is more on the line of meaning than of acts now.

Why do we say that? Well, when we were children we used to sing the hymn (and I think when we're grown up we often feel the same) we used to sing, "I think when I read that sweet story of old, when Jesus was here among men..." and then it finishes, "I should like to have been with Him then". Do you feel you would like to have lived with Him then on the earth? Is that the best thing that you can think about? Let me tell you: you have got something far better than that now! May I say Jesus is with us, but oh, on a much more wonderful basis than then.

We are called now to be companions of Christ, companions of the heavenly calling and His dealings with us perhaps are far more real because His dealings with us are spiritual and eternal, while His dealings then were only physical and for the time being. It is a good thing to look after people's bodies and to help them in this life, but there is something very much more than that, it is that heavenly calling, that which is eternal, that which will not pass as our life work when time is no more.

"Wherefore holy brethren, companions of a heavenly calling... we are made companions of Christ if we hold fast". All that is only by way of laying the foundation. As the Lord helps in these coming days, we shall build on that foundation.

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