Reading: Romans 1:9; John 4:21-24; 1 Cor. 15:44; Heb. 12:9.
We have been very much occupied in these days with the matter of ministry in the house of God. We have been considering the house of God along the lines of the Divine order, and now in this gathering I have this word on my heart to speak about service in connection with the clause in Romans 1:9: "Whom I serve in my spirit".
It is of very great importance that we who are servants of the Lord should know the nature of service from the Lord's standpoint, and I think this statement of the apostle represents something which is quite revolutionary in the matter of service. It says quite clearly that the true service of the Lord is not in things outward; it does not begin there. It is not a matter of taking up Christian work, going into the Lord's service and becoming workers, or servants, or ministers in a systematized sense. It represents a change in dispensations.
In the old dispensation the service of the Lord consisted in the things that were done outwardly: the sacrifices, the sprinkling of blood, and all the many sided ministry of the tabernacle or the temple in outward things. That was the old order. I am rather afraid a good deal of that conception of things has come over into the New Testament age and the service of the Lord is looked upon as an office into which you are either put, or which you take up - a name by which you are called, perhaps the form of apparel which you wear, and having certain outward facilities of arranged, prepared, organized Christian work, and then a programme of activities, the giving of addresses and the preaching of sermons. Now, service will always have, of course, an outward expression, but this word of the apostle implies, if it does not definitely state, that true service does not begin there. It is not just seeing something that needs to be done and going and doing it.
The words of the Lord Jesus to the woman, as we have again read them, represent this tremendous change which has come about by His presence. She is pointing to the outward representations of the old system of worship and service: this mountain and Jerusalem, this temple and that, and our fathers worshipped here and You say that it ought to be there. Well, that was the old order. It was Jerusalem or some other place, the temple there or some other centre of worship, and He said to her: "Woman, believe Me, the hour comes, when you shall neither in this mountain nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father... but the hour comes, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth; for the Father seeks such to worship Him" (KJV).
What is the force of the "now is"? Well, it covers a tremendous range; it has the most momentous implication. It means that by the presence of the Lord Jesus, every outward system as it has existed is finished with. It was a representation. It pointed on to something, to Someone. In Him all its meaning was gathered up and fulfilled and the mere illustration is now finished with. The reality of all this is found in the Lord Jesus and that [other] was not the real thing, not the true thing. He places His emphasis upon the true worshippers then, that is by way of comparison and discrimination. In a sense, neither Jerusalem nor Samaria represented true worship. No doubt the worshippers were sincere, they meant what they did, He is not questioning their sincerity, but He is saying it was not an outward system of things, and not the heavenly things themselves; it was that pattern of things in the heavenlies. He is the Heavenly One, He is the embodiment of the heavenly system, and when He arrives all that merely represents Him passes away, ceases, so that with His coming both the temples went, the outward systems went in the mind of God. The tragedy was that men kept on with a thing which had served its purpose, had its fulfilment, and was now set aside. "The hour comes, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father... the true worshippers shall worship the father in spirit and in truth". "Whom I serve in my spirit".
Now everything for the believer has its root and its rise in their spirit. In the deepest reality of the new birth it is the spirit that has become the seat of the new life, the spirit which has become the centre of the regenerating activity of the Holy Spirit, and the spirit which has become the vessel of the indwelling Holy Spirit, and it is out from there that everything for the believer proceeds. This simple phrase is used by the apostle to the Hebrews: "The Father of (our) spirits". Our spirits then have been begotten of God, born anew from above, and everything therefore is inward in its origin. Worship now belongs to our born-anew spirit and service proceeds from our born-anew spirit. I am not drawing a broad distinction between worship and service; I am using the words that may be interchangeable. They may, for our purpose, represent two aspects of the same thing.
The point is that everything new takes its rise in the spirit because the spirit is really the mind renewed, and it is the spirit of the mind which brings the mind into fellowship with God who is a Spirit. God puts Himself into communication with man by man's spirit. It is the spirit of man which, renewed, born again from above, and indwelt by the Holy Spirit, is endowed with those spiritual faculties which are necessary for spiritual life and spiritual service. The faculty of sight in things spiritual belongs to the spirit. It is what the apostle means by "having the eyes of your heart enlightened". Eyes, deeper down than the eyes of reason, of mental apprehension, the apprehension of things spiritual demands the spiritual organ of sight to be quickened and energised by the Holy Spirit.
Now, I think it unnecessary at the moment to go over the whole ground of spiritual faculties. We make the statement in general, that this is the situation. It is the outworking of this that is important. In the case of the apostle who said this, it represented such a tremendous change for him. He knew the Old Testament Scriptures before ever he was born again, he knew them thoroughly and he knew them soundly, and yet he did not know them at all! And the thing which happened to him in his new birth was that he saw with eyes which he had never possessed before. He saw behind those familiar Scriptures the spiritual realities of God's mind, God's thought, and hence he did not just give out the Scriptures, though he believed they were Divine Scriptures, that they were inspired of God. And you find that he is getting the Divine thought behind them, and that Divine thought coming to him, seeing that behind the Scriptures made him appear to everyone else who knew the Scriptures in the old way, as though he was reading things into the Scriptures, and taking things out of the Scriptures which were not there, and giving all sorts of fantastic interpretations to the Scriptures. They could not see, but he had seen. Now, what I say is not justification for giving fantastic interpretations of Scriptures or trying to get something out of them that is not there.
Some people think they can be mysterious in getting something out of the Scriptures which is not there. The point is, ministry in the Spirit is not just ministry in the letter. Ministry in the Spirit is what the Holy Spirit reveals within as God's thought, as God's mind about things. It is the deeper thing that can only come to us when the spirit has been quickened and made alive to God's thought about it. It is the great difference between taking up the Bible as a book of texts and preparing wonderful discourses on passages of Scriptures and using them as pegs to hang all sorts of stuff. It is a serving in the spirit, that is, in the recognition by the quickened and renewed spirit, in the power of the Holy Spirit, of God's mind about things, and you will discover of course, that that is a perfectly revolutionary thing and that represents spiritual growth, spiritual maturity.
Taking this letter to the Hebrews from which we have taken the phrase: "The Father of (our) spirits", the difficulty with which the apostle was dealing there was a spiritual immaturity to which he refers in chapter five when he said: "For when by reason of the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need again that someone teach you the rudiments of the first principles of the oracles of God." That was his difficulty; and that state of things was working out in this way, that they were not seeing, that they had not the spiritual perception to recognise that the old Jewish order of things in the tabernacle, in the temple - priesthood, sacrifices, and in those external ordinances as such, that the whole thing had now passed as a representation. The spiritual realities which they represented were God's established order for the new dispensation, and their danger was to live in an old dispensation which had passed, and therefore to lose the spiritual power and virtue of what had come in, and that was immaturity. And the apostle was trying to show that that new service and worship is an inward thing first of all. It is by reason of Christ who fulfils all those things and gathers them all up in His own Person as fulfilled, taking up residence by His Spirit within the renewed spirit, of which God is Father. And out from there worship flowing and service proceeding and everything coming from the Spirit of God who has with Him the complete fulfilment of everything foreshadowed, dwelling within the born-again spirit and expressing that. That is what Paul meant by: "Whom I serve in my spirit". Paul had not, as we saw, gone into the ministry; the ministry had gone into him. Paul had not taken up Christian work; the Lord had taken up Paul. There is all the difference, and we have got to come back to this last.
By reason of our being regarded as workers, or ministers, or the Lord's servants, we find that there is a great system imposed upon us and we are under an obligation to meet it, and so we must prepare so many addresses to meet the organized demands of our position, and the thing becomes external upon us, a great imposition, something imposed upon us, and we have got to live up to it. When we get there it will not be long before we are dry and lifeless and the whole thing will be onerous and burdensome. No, everything depends upon our inward life in the Lord, that the Lord Himself by His Spirit dwelling within us has an opened heaven, a heaven that was opened to Him and has never been closed, and as within us, so to speak, now in imagery, the angels of God ascending and descending upon Him. That is, with an opened heaven God's communications in Christ continually going on in our hearts: the communications of heaven. That is exactly what happened in His own case in the days of His flesh. He repudiated any suggestion that anything He said or did originated in Himself. He constantly affirmed that the works that He did, He did not out from Himself. "The Son can do nothing of Himself, but what he sees the Father doing! For what things so ever He does, these the Son also does in like manner."
How did He see? The eyes of His heart were enlightened. His spirit was discerning, perceiving by its own spiritual faculty under the anointing of the Holy Spirit, what the Father is doing. He was standing in this sense as man, the Son of man in ministry according to God's heart. We are not forgetting that there is the other side where He is God Himself, but now He is standing officially as man in the service of God under the anointing of the Spirit, and the law is that nothing originates in Himself, it all originates with the Father and is communicated to His spirit, and His spirit in Holy Spirit fellowship with the Father is discerning, recognising, and so it comes out from the Father through His spirit. He serves His Father in His spirit, and as with the works, so with the words. "I do nothing of myself; but as My Father has taught Me I speak these things." "The Father that dwells in Me, He does the works. " "The word which ye hear is not Mine, but the Father's which sent Me."
We must not apply this to general and all situations. It was not concerning giving the Lord's message, but concerning emergencies. He said to His disciples: "When they deliver you up, take no thought how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak. For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaks in you." So many we have come across have taken that to apply to all kinds of ministry and have thought: "The Lord will tell me what to say when I get on my feet..." - be careful! Come back to this: that the Lord Jesus Himself was in this position that nothing had its rise in Himself. It had its rise in God by the Spirit and that was born in His own spirit; exactly what the apostle means: "Whom I serve in my spirit". Nothing out from himself, but out from God. That is the principle of spiritual ministry and spiritual service. When it is like that, there will be nothing that is dead. It will be a constant renewing. You may say the same things a thousand times, you may follow the same line of truth many times, but if it is in your spirit, not just your natural mind, it will not matter how many times it is said. If it is said by the leading of the Lord it will still have vitality and energy and effectiveness. This has got to be in our spirit and not to be in our system of things outwardly, not to be in ourselves naturally, and of course, here comes in the tremendous necessity for our spiritual life, our spirit to be kept in that continuous fellowship with the Lord.
The Lord Jesus speaks of Himself as fulfilling Jacob's dream; the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man. And you will remember that in the case of Jacob it was Bethel that was in view, the house of God. The house of God, an altar set up upon the earth, the angels of God ascending and descending upon it. That is all you want as a description of the house of God. The Lord Jesus was the sanctuary of God on the earth. He was the Divine Bethel, the house of God. The features of His life were just those: the Father above in the place of exaltation, in the place of government, the place where everything was subject to Him of soul, heart, and mind, and between Him and His temple constant communications: the bearing of God's mind, carrying to and fro all His thoughts and desires, coming down revealing His mind, returning with that will as known, fulfilled. That is the church. That is the house of God. That is Bethel.
But mark you, each one of the Lord's servants is the house of God, is a temple of the Holy Spirit; every member of Christ is a sanctuary, a habitation of God, and ministry in that house of God is upon that principle, that Christ indwells by His Spirit and that all the ministry and all the service is upon the basis of a continual communication with heaven. Not producing the thing ourselves, what we should say, what we should do, where we should go, but receiving it by the Spirit and only as it is so, beloved, will the thing be living, will the thing be effective. This is very elementary, but oh it is fundamental, it is basic, it is important.
The conflict for the child of God is for the most part in the realm of the spirit being now alive, being kept, maintained in life. The soul and the body must be governed by the renewed and Holy Spirit energised spirit, and if the spirit loses some of its vitality, then we shall register that in all the rest of our being. We shall know it in our bodies, we shall know it in our minds, in our souls, in that which we call our souls, our soul life. Yes, but it works the other way. The secret of true life in body, in mind, is found in the spirit being constantly maintained in life by the Holy Spirit. Oh, we have proved this again so often; that sometimes we felt perfectly incapable of doing anything with our bodies, and in our soul life we have had no energy, no will, no heart, no mind. We have tried to raise ourselves, but no. But then we have got one or two to pray with us, or the Lord has graciously sent someone along to pray with us, and in touch with Him, in renewed touch with Him the spirit has been renewed, re-energised, and through the vehicle of the spirit the life of the Lord has come into the mind, into the soul, into the body and the service that has followed almost instantly, or almost immediately afterward, the thing which was in view, the thing for which we were entirely unfit has not been service in our body, or in our soul, we serve the Lord in our spirit because if it had not been for that renewed, re-energised indwelt spirit, the service would not have been produced.
And if you had asked Paul how it was that he was able, with such a body of infirmity, having suffered so much, to do all that he did do, he would have explained that it was all the outcome of his spirit being constantly energised and renewed. Now, we are so often in danger of thinking the other way round, that the Lord must first of all come and start with our bodies before ever we can do anything. That sometimes has been His kindergarten method with people who have not spiritual intelligence and understanding, with the little ones, and He sometimes adapts Himself to the ignorance of the Lord's people, but that is not in the least normal. That is not the principle of the child of God who has any intelligent fellowship with the Lord, and it is an important thing in service to recognise this, because you know real service does represent some measure of maturity, which means spiritual intelligence.
In the book of Numbers we read about the order of the house of God. Well, if you look into the book of Numbers, you will find that there was an age limit fixed in relation to those who were to come into fellowship with the Lord in His conquests. You see that what was in view was the house of God ordered according to the mind of God with this issue: "Rise up, Lord, and let Thine enemies be scattered". You see the scattering of the enemy and the casting down of the adversaries was the issue of a house in order, but unto that there was an age fixed, twenty years, and twenty years means typically youthful maturity. Maturity is not just a matter of time. Paul tried to bring that home to Timothy. It is not just a matter of years, maturity can belong to what is naturally a youthful state, and immaturity can belong to people who are naturally as old as Methuselah. The three and a half years of our Lord's life counted for infinitely more than the almost a thousand years of Methuselah. That spiritual value is not reckoned by God in the measure of time. The Lord would have His warriors mature as soon as possible, but there must be maturity even though in the point of years those years may be few. And maturity is marked, of course, by intelligence and, in the Lord's service especially, upon this matter that we will not be able to do spiritual service by natural means - that even if we have the best natural equipment, that is not the Lord's means for accomplishing spiritual ends in itself. We may not have that equipment physically, mentally, or naturally.
We may be at a discount, but the principle is that service is in the energy of the Spirit and when we are most at a discount physically and mentally, when we have no natural resources left, when it seems that the work of the Lord is no longer possible and that there is a growing limitation, we should remember that the principle of serving the Lord is not natural at all, it is the spirit; that the spirit being energised by God and quickened at any moment can make mind and body equal to the fullest labour so that we do not accept our natural state as our criterion - "Whom I serve in my spirit", and it is the explanation of the phenomenal accomplishments there in the apostle's life. You cannot explain things at all upon the natural ground, you have to look elsewhere and he gives you the secret: "Whom I serve in my spirit", not with my natural force, not with my physical strength, not with my intellectual equipment, but "Whom I serve in my spirit". His equipment, therefore, for service came through his spirit whether that equipment was of revelation, light, truth, or whether the equipment was physical energy and strength. Whatever equipment was necessary along the line of knowledge or strength, it came to him through his spirit. He will tell us quite plainly that he did not receive his knowledge of the Lord by any natural means, it did not come to him by the exercise of his natural reason, and he did not receive it from men, he received it by revelation in his spirit; and what was true in the realm of revelation and knowledge was true in every other realm which made him the minister of Christ that he was.
The secret was here, "in my spirit". He had found, not only initially in his new birth, but continuously in his life, in his very continuance and persistence, and in all his ministry, that the Last Adam was made a life-giving Spirit. That was a continual abiding reality for him in everything. The Last Adam to him was made a quickening Spirit, it is the explanation of the believer's life, it is the explanation of the sustainings, of the service, and of the consummation of the believer's life. 1 Cor. 15:35: "How are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come?" The explanation is that believers, so far as believers are concerned, have got a renewed spirit, and they are essentially spiritual people, and God is going to clothe them with a spiritual body. The consummation of the believer's life is on the basis of that principle, that they already have been raised and therefore they will be raised. They already have a spiritual man, and that spiritual man must, for his completeness, have a spiritual body.
Everything begins with the spirit, proceeds from the spirit, is the basis of all the Divine activities and service. We have got to know how to walk in the spirit and live in the spirit. Hence we have ever to remember that natural conditions are never to be the last word, for in a moment when the whole natural situation may be, speaking naturally, utterly hopeless, by a quickening of the spirit the most wonderful results may follow. Dead one minute and the next minute, or the next hour, in a full stream of active life in the service of the Lord. Not that the Lord did something from the outside, but the spirit felt His quickened touch, and that spirit took hold of mind and body and said: "Come on, there is more work for the Lord yet to be done in the energy which the Lord gives." There are intelligences which are able to recognise that. Men do not see it. Men see the outside.
In the main, men do not know, but there are intelligences who know, who are able to recognise and it is in that sense that it is unto principalities and powers that the manifold wisdom of God is made known through the church. We are equally to be individually and corporately a vessel of the testimony of that deathless life of our risen Lord, and that is to come through our ministry, to be the truth of our ministry: "Whom I serve in my spirit in the gospel of His Son".
The Lord teach us more and more of what that means, of the value of that, the possibilities of that, how to apply that. May we always bear in mind that in order that that might be maintained for us in its fullest measure, there must not be any tampering with the flesh. We must daily put to death the deeds of the flesh so that the Life of Jesus may be manifested even in these mortal bodies.
The Lord help us.