The Heavenly Calling, Conduct and Conflict of the Church

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 6 - The Strategic Value of the Power of Love

We are being constrained in these meditations to contemplate the heavenly calling, conduct, and conflict of the people of God as revealed to us in the letter to the Ephesians. In our last two meditations, we were especially taken up with the place of the Holy Spirit in each of these connections in the letter - the Holy Spirit and the calling, the Holy Spirit and the conduct, the Holy Spirit and the conflict. I think it is quite clear that we shall not be able to deal with every passage in the letter which refers to the Holy Spirit, but rather with the inclusive message that is here as the Holy Spirit is seen to be so closely related to everything, and we shall continue for a little while where we left off in our previous meditation.

It might, however, be helpful to you for your own quiet meditation, if I indicated the passages in each connection. In the first - the Holy Spirit and the calling - we have a basic spiritual state for spiritual blessings: Ephesians 1:5. Then in relation to the purpose, the calling, or the inheritance, He is set forth as the seal, the Spirit of promise, the earnest of the inheritance: Ephesians 1:13-14. In verses 15-23, we have Him spoken of as the Spirit of wisdom and revelation. In Ephesians 2:18, we are seen to have access in one Spirit unto God; that is, the Spirit here is set forth as the way into the presence of God, meaning that it is only in the Spirit we can come into God's presence, "We both have our access". Then in Ephesians 2:21-22, there is reference to the church as being built for a habitation of the Spirit, which means that the Christ exalted is now the Christ within the church, and that carries with it a great deal more than we shall stay to dwell upon. Amongst other things, it means this: that the execution of the purpose of God, which is committed to the Holy Spirit, is not something which is carried on from a distance, but something which is carried on in an inward way. The Lord Jesus is not doing something as from heaven now; He is doing something within (by His Spirit) the churches, the habitation of God by and through the Spirit.

Now the final passage in that section with which we are going to stay now, because it spreads itself out so much, is in Ephesians 3:16-19: "That He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, that ye may be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inward man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; to the end that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be strong to apprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge, that ye may be filled unto all the fulness of God."

That is a tremendous paragraph and, as you will recognise, it is a summarising passage; that is, it reaches right back over all that has preceded it in the letter and takes up all that and gathers it into itself, but it does not stop there, for Paul did not write his letter in chapters nor in verses. He proceeded straight on and this summarising passage immediately reached on into all that follows in this next section as we have marked it out - the conduct, the heavenly conduct, of the church, and then on to the third and final phase: the heavenly conflict of the Lord's people. Every part of the letter is gathered into this fragment at the end of Ephesians 3. It is very important to recognise that.

We shall see it more clearly as we go on, but I want to take hold of that immediately because it is an essentially inclusive thing that the apostle is saying here, and when we say "the apostle", we mean the Holy Spirit; we mean that the Holy Spirit means a very great deal more than perhaps either Paul the apostle or ourselves have ever yet seen. As we come under the Holy Spirit's tuition and illumination, we are able to see the truth by these things which the Holy Spirit has caused to be set down, and our approach to anything which the Holy Spirit has given should always be on this wise: there is something more there known to the Holy Spirit than we have recognised, and there is enough there yet to be revealed as unrecognised, to carry us right on to the very last step in the way of God's purpose, for what the Holy Spirit says embraces the whole purpose of God and we have got to see how what He says really does affect us as we are the called according to His purpose. Now that is the realm in which we shall move for a while.

The Strategic Value and Power of Love

Look back. Read again all those wonderful things about the heavenly calling, taking the first three chapters fragment by fragment. You can almost take them word for word, for the words are ponderous, they are tremendous words. See the vision they unfold, the great purpose of God from eternity, the calling of the church as out from those eternal counsels, pointing out and on to a day when that church will be a glorious church presented without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, to be in union with His Son as its Head, the very instrument by which God will administer this universe in heaven and in earth. All that is there; that is the calling.

Then look again, and you will be shown that over against that purpose, that calling, that intention of God, over against that unspeakably great thought of God concerning the church, there is a whole mighty system of evil set with almost inexhaustible resource to frustrate that, to defeat that, to render that impossible of realisation; a great warring hierarchy, principalities and powers, world-rulers of this darkness, hosts of wicked spirits in the heavenlies, with fiery darts and countless wiles. And their object is the purpose of God concerning the church, Christ and His members. Those are the two great things on either side - the purpose, and the antagonists of the purpose.

The Lord comes right in and He says, "You are called into that, and those are your foes and I want to let you know how you are going to win and how the purpose is going to be realised in you and by you, how you are going to come to that glorious end, for it is not going to be done apart from you; it is going to be done in you". And seeing that the purpose has created a warfare, and a terrible warfare at that, you want to know how to go to war and how you can go to war with the assurance of winning; and the first thing that I will say to you about this warfare is that the great strategy is love. The most strategic thing in the realisation of this eternal purpose and in the warfare with the powers of evil, is love. It is a matter of strength, is it not? "That you may be strengthened with might by His Spirit in(to) the inward man". We pray that prayer, we take hold of those words, and all the time we are thinking of strength, we are thinking of power, we are thinking of might, and you notice that the context of those very words - power, might, strengthened - is love, unto love.

The object of that strengthening, therefore the object of the Holy Spirit in this connection, is to the end that being rooted and grounded in love, you may be strong. Strong to apprehend what? Divine thoughts? Truths? Great ideas about God? No, strong to apprehend what is the breadth and length and height and depth and to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge, that you may be filled unto all the fulness of God. It is all connected with love, and what the Holy Spirit is saying here, if you have eyes to see, is quite clearly this: it will be as the church is rooted and grounded in love that it will be able to meet the enemy victoriously.

I do not want to come down on to a very low ground, but after all, do we not see some reflection of this in the world in which we are now living? What are all the warring nations after? What are they saying is the main factor in their strategy for victory? It is the unity of the nation, the nation must be one, a solid whole. It must be as one man. What is the strategy of a nation against another nation? To disintegrate the other nation from the inside, to sow seeds of suspicion and doubt in the peoples on the other side, to get them internally broken up by questions about themselves and about one another, about their leaders and their policies, and every effort is being made by propaganda to get internal disintegration as the great strategy for victory. We do not want to dwell there very long, but you see what I mean.

Is not this the very work that the devil does to rob the church of its fighting power? Is not this the very business of evil spirits in order to defeat the church and to frustrate the purpose of God? Is it not true that the smoke of suspicion, doubt, fear, prejudice, and all such things has achieved the enemy's end for bringing the church into weakness, internal disintegration, scatteredness, and paralysis more than anything else? And what is true, speaking of the whole, the general thing, is true always within the smallest circle of Christian fellowships. The enemy will pursue that course because it has always been so fruitful. It brings him far more gratification than any other course.

Just to step back again into that wretched realm which we have just touched, it would be very much more gratifying if any one nation at war could so disintegrate the enemy from inside as to destroy it altogether, than it would to make direct assault upon it and spend its life-blood in a great venture like that. If you can, without striking a blow, win by internal propaganda, you have kept your forces intact. You have got all your reserves for other work you want to do. You see how Satan reproduces himself even in this world on its ordinary human level where he governs.

Get behind and see him doing this in a spiritual way against the church. Well, if Satan can strike a mighty blow of victory and success by dividing the Lord's people through suspicion, why should he come out in the more obvious and perilous and costly ways of open assault? He has got it all without striking a blow really, and that is the pathos and the tragedy, the thing that you and I, if we recognised it, would revolt against it in our hearts more than anything else. Satan has simply crippled us by interfering with our fellowship. He has put us right out of the fight by getting in between us, making us look at one another with suspicion, with doubt, putting a question to our minds about someone. And more often than not, it is a lie, it is the propaganda of lies. It is not true. He can get enough truth mixed in with it to give it a way and make it acceptable, at least to get it entertained, but oh, how the Lord's people need spiritual discernment and watchfulness not to take everything at its face value, even though it may look like being the truth. We should say, 'Wait a minute, let us make sure that that is the whole truth and nothing but the truth'. There is a tremendous strategic value in love among the saints and we may take it that when the Holy Spirit says a thing like this, He has got big issues in view, and He has got the biggest thing - the very purpose of God in us - in His hands.

Now, He comes as the Spirit of might, of strength, but remember that that is interpreted in the church in terms of love. Our strength is the strength of our mutual love. Always remember that. Power by the Holy Spirit in the church has got to be interpreted in terms of love. You want to remember there is a difference between Lordship and Headship. It is only another aspect of the same thing. Christ is given to the church as Head over all things, and later we shall be told that the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the Head of the church. If you go back to Corinthians, you are not being told about the Headship of Christ in definite language and terms, although it is implied there in one place at any rate, but it is not the subject. It is the Lordship of Christ. Why? Because the state of things in Corinth was such as to need Him to be Lord, but when you come to Ephesians, you come off Corinthian ground up into the heavenlies, and He is Head.

The husband is not the lord of the wife, he is the head of the wife. It is true in a certain sense that the Lord Jesus is Lord of the church, but He is not called that. He is called 'Head'. Headship is what? The pre-eminence of love. Lordship is domination. You have got to come under when it is lordship. That is not the relationship between wives and husbands. It is the pre-eminence of love, as Ephesians 5 makes quite clear, "Even as Christ loved the church". He is Head. There is no despotism about Christ where the church is concerned. You see, there is a difference. If you go the 'Corinthian' way, you will have to know Him as Lord, you will have to come under, be broken. If you go the 'Ephesian' way (I do not know that I like those terms), the heavenly way, you do not have to break under the Lordship of Christ, you bow under His Headship. It is love pre-eminent, you see, and that is power. It must be like that if we are going to overcome the enemy.

You and I can never face this foe if we have got to be broken under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, but we can face him if we have bowed under His Headship in the pre-eminence of His love. "Strengthened with might by His Spirit into the inward man... rooted and grounded in love to be strong to apprehend with all saints the love, the knowledge-surpassing love, to be filled unto all the fulness of God".

How can we gather that up in a word? This is the message, beloved. We are thinking of a new position with new power, a position of spiritual ascendancy where the enemy is proved to be defeated, where we really are above in Christ. It becomes a very practical matter! "Forbearing one another in love". "Forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake, has forgiven you". "Walk in love", says the apostle in this section - conduct - walk in love. "Giving diligence to keep the unity of the Spirit". That is the strategy against the enemy. That is the position necessary for heavenly warfare. Some great spiritual battles are lost and the enemy has much over which to gloat when, by some little phantom, some mixed lie, he has got in between two believers and interfered with fellowship, or when he has succeeded in getting a suspicion, a doubt, a question, into people's minds about something which the Lord is using.

The enemy knows the value of oneness, the unity of the Spirit, the love of the Spirit. He knows the value, and you may take it that that is his focal point with us all. Let us take this to heart and do let us be always watchful about this matter. When we come into the warfare, we shall be told that we are not only to pray at all seasons, but watch thereunto with all perseverance. The enemy stops at nothing. Let me say again, so often it is a phantom.

I recount one little incident by way of illustrating this. It always remains in my mind because it was a life lesson to me, and has always been a very great help to me ever since. Away back in the beginning when the Lord was dealing with me, when the Lord had brought me through that great crisis in my life which was the biggest thing, and was the beginning of this ministry, and we were being taught what authority in Christ over the powers of evil is, my first lesson was a very simple one, but a very precise one.

One Lord's Day morning, brother Paterson came into my room just before the meeting, and as he came in, it was as though there was a mighty wall of ice between us. He came in like an iceberg, I thought, and froze me out. But there was something sinister about it and evil. Once I registered that, I looked at him, and said, "What is the matter with you?"


I looked him straight in the eyes and I said, "Are you really telling me there is nothing?"

"No, nothing that I am conscious of."

I said I was not satisfied and asked, "Has someone been saying things to you about me?"


"Well, what is it? Are you conscious of something?"

And he said, "Oh yes, now you speak of it, I feel there is something..."

"And you are sure that there is absolutely nothing, you have not got a question, you have not got a doubt, you have not got something that wants clearing up?"

"No, nothing."

"Well," I said, "We will get down before the Lord and destroy this thing." We knelt together and, in the Name of the Lord, we stood against that working of evil. It went at once. But it was what followed that explained it. It was the Lord's Day, and the enemy saw that there was something bound up with that day that he wanted to prevent, and so he came in with his phantom, but there was nothing more real to me - it could have paralysed me if we had not dealt with it. It was dealt with on the spot, cleared up, removed, and the day explained what the enemy was after. It was made perfectly clear that Satan had some real interest in that day because the Lord had a real interest.

Very often Satan will come a long with these evil spirits and put up something. If you take it on, it will be devastating work between you and another. If it is real, then deal with it before the Lord. If it is unreal, destroy it. Be careful how you take things on in the matter of interruptions of fellowship. You may take it the enemy has an interest in that. There is a mighty strategy in the love of the Spirit. The Lord teach us the meaning!

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