The Heavenly Calling, Conduct and Conflict of the Church

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 7 - The Present Significance of the Life of the Church in Relation to the Heavenlies

"To the intent that now unto the principalities and the powers in the heavenly places might he made known through the church the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose which He purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord". (Eph. 3:10-11).

We are going to turn for a while to Ephesians 3 - "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". I would say, right at the outset, I do not know exactly what it means that principalities and powers or authorities in the heavenlies are getting education at this time by means of the church. I can only draw certain conclusions of a more or less general character, and then you do not know whether you are right; that is, you might draw this conclusion that in some way there was and is a wonderful fulness of Divine resource which could never be drawn out in display even to heavenly intelligences until that specific object brought in the church - that is, that the church has become a peculiar instrument for drawing out from God Himself things which had no occasion of coming out apart from the church. We might think of that, for instance, in the matter of grace. The heavenly intelligences had never had an opportunity of knowing God as a God of grace - they had known Him in many ways, but grace had no meaning - until there was an object that needed grace and all that grace means, so they are learning something new about God in the display of grace, because the church is peculiarly needy of grace.

However, that is not what I feel to be the message now, but rather the significance of such a statement as a part of this whole letter. This is a very significant statement, and when it is viewed in the light of the whole letter, or as a part of the whole letter, you can see something of the range of significance that is bound up with this statement. It is an amazing thing! Perhaps we could grasp it more easily if it had left out the word 'now', for instance, and we were left with the idea that in the coming ages God was going to display in the universe through the church things which are new displays of His many-sided, His variegated wisdom; but the word 'now' being there brings us to an immediate issue. "Now unto principalities and powers..." and the 'now', as you see by the immediate context, is this dispensation: " make all men see what is the stewardship of the mystery which from all ages has been hid in God who created all things; to the intent that now...". The 'now' is set over against the 'all ages', the other ages. So that in this dispensation, God is doing something in the heavenlies through the church which is a revelation of Himself.

Let me pause there to make a parenthesis. You have got to read again from Ephesians 4:1-6:9 to see the meaning of the church. When you have specific applications of the word made, such as husbands, wives; wives, husbands; parents, children; children, parents; servants, masters - you are not dealing with something other than the church. And all the other details in that section about people and their relationships and their affairs and their behaviour (and there are a great many details there all addressed to saints in particular connections and directions) are still dealing with the church. You have not come off the ground of the church when you come to deal with a husband and a wife in particular, or a child or a family and parents in particular. You are still on the ground of what this letter is intended to make clear. You are on the ground of the church, so that this letter and this particular fragment directly shows that everything in the life of the church and its individual members is taken up into the unseen and has a meaning and a value there.

All spiritual history in the members of Christ's Body and in the Body as a whole, is heavenly history. That is, it is making history in heaven, it is constituting history in heaven, it has a significance in the unseen. I use 'heaven' now not in the absolute and final sense, but in the sense in which this letter uses it - "the heavenlies", "in the heavenlies". Nothing in the life of the believer, nothing in the life of the church must be regarded as something in itself, as something here on the earth, as something which really does not matter so much as those other spiritual things. It can never be detached from the ultimate, final, supreme issue of the eternal purpose and the overthrow of the whole kingdom of Satan. That immense purpose of God from eternity concerning the church and that tremendous downfall of the whole hierarchy of Satan is focussed upon the details of spiritual life in believers, and those details of spiritual life in the believer may have a definite and an immediate effect upon the biggest spiritual issues in the heavenlies. Is not that the whole teaching of this letter to start with, and if we take this letter as the New Testament counterpart of the book of Joshua in the Old Testament, does not the type in Joshua bear this out right up to the hilt?

You will remember that in the book of Joshua the people, being regarded typically as in the land or in the heavenlies now, find their whole life brought under arrest by the act of one man on the earth. The whole nation is affected, its progress is checked, and the enemy is able to withstand effectually. And when it comes to examination, the Lord focuses it all down, mark you, the whole of the host of the Lord and the Captain of the host of the Lord and all the purpose of the Lord, focussed down to the act of a single individual in secret - and that is not there for nothing. It is not just history as on the earth. It is tremendously significant.

That is what Eph.3:10 means - "to the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in the heavenlies might be made known through the church the manifold wisdom of God".

Its significance is that everything in the life of the church has an effect somewhere in the unseen, and that it is no use our regarding spiritual things as one thing, and thinking that we are going to get through in spiritual matters if the details of life down here are wrong in the secret life, in the things behind the scenes. We cannot live a church life and a private life - that is what this letter teaches. There is no such division; it is all one. We cannot live a heavenly life and an earthly life. We must get our mentality perfectly purged of all these unformed ideas, that when we come to pray for instance, when we come to meetings for prayer and when we come to spiritual exercises, then we are in one realm, but at other times we are in the world and on another level of life and they are other things altogether, and so we change our position from time to time. There is nothing like that here at all. There is only one realm for the believer, and so the master as a master has got to be a master as in the heavenlies. The master cannot be an elder of the church on the Lord's Day and a hard driver on any other day and a servant; in all these relationships there are not two realms for these things. There is only one realm and all these things are really touching the ultimate.

It does matter in the final issue of victory over the enemy how we behave in secret, in private, and as we are able, let us dismiss once and for all from our mentality the idea that there is anything at all in our lives, if we are members of Christ, which is private. I am not talking about things between one another, but there is a little passage which says, "There is nothing hid which shall not be made manifest" (Matt. 10:26). That is a terrible saying. Does that mean that God is going to drag out into the public everything that we hide, or would hide? I do not think it means that at all. I do not think God is like that. But I do think it is just as serious as that, and it means this: that something may be going on that is not right, something may be out of order in the background of our life. And then the day arrives when there is a big spiritual issue on that, when of all times it is necessary for us to be in a position to be able to deal with that thing effectively in the presence of God, to bring the authority of Christ upon that and we cannot do it, and the devil simply laughs at us and we are put to shame and confusion in that critical hour. We search for the reason. We think the Lord has failed us, the Lord has not been faithful, we have been let down in a serious moment or hour of our lives, and we have suffered reverse, and shame, and loss. The Lord has to say, "The trouble is not there at all; it is this!" You do not see that the thing can be related at all. That hidden thing is made manifest. It has found us out in the hour of deepest need. It is a thing hidden, now made manifest. The thing itself was not displayed as what it was, but it was manifested in its effect in the heavens. That is the somewhat severe aspect of things. I am only trying to emphasise the meaning in this, that after all, when we come into a heavenly position, there is nothing which has no effect there, everything counts there.

So you take this letter and you take it as a whole, and you will find that the value of everything is to be found in the realm where the full purpose of God is being disputed. Your first step - Jordan - for the heavenlies is your first step, that is, that place and point to which you come where you accept your identification with Christ in His risen ascension life through death. That is not just a baptismal service, that is not just embracing some extra bit of New Testament teaching. That is not just being conformed to some form of doctrine or teaching. That step represents something of tremendous significance in the heavenlies, and if it does not have that effect, there is not much in it. Therefore we find that if someone has really got spiritual life and is really moving in Life in the matter of baptism, Satan has a great interest in that. He is marking that. He recognises that that is not going through a form, that is not just doctrine, that is not a mere ordinance; that means something, and if he cannot prevent it before, he will make an awful rally sooner or later to spoil it. It means something in heaven. A true living testimony has its effect there.

That is our first step, and in every successive step with the Lord it has got to be a heavenly step, and being that, it means so much to the Lord and so much to the enemy that it sets up conflict. And in a heavenly way, on a heavenly road, you will find that the Lord's people can never take one further step in relation to the eternal purpose, without a fresh rising up of the enemy in power and hatred to try and prevent, to quench, to spoil. He is closely interested in every true spiritual step of the church.

This represents the great difference between Christianity as an earthly system and the church which is a heavenly body. On the one side and on the one line, you simply become a Christian in the accepted sense of the term according to tradition, and now you are a Christian, and now you get baptized because Christians are baptized, and then you go to church, you go to meetings, and you read a portion of the Bible every day, and you do quite a lot of things that Christians do, and you therefore swell the ranks of the multitudes of Christians who are doing these things and going this way and bearing this name. Well, that is one thing. But there is another thing. There is the other thing which from the very first inclination is a tremendously challenged thing and Satan knows very well the difference between a traditional Christian and a heavenly member of the Body of Christ, whether actually or potentially so. He knows what you are going to count for. If he sees you are simply moving on the traditional line, well, he will probably give you a push in that direction and help you on, because there is nothing more useful to him than to have dead 'Christians', Christians who were never really alive to count against him. But if he sees you mean business, if he sees God's hand on you, and knows as he is able to discern that you are bound up with the eternal purpose and you are in the way of the Spirit of God, then your course is going to be one which is fraught with conflict and withstanding. It is going to be a lively history in every sense.

It is not that we are anything in ourselves at all, but after all, beloved, what is said at the commencement of the letter to the Ephesians is said about us. This is said about you and about me - "Foreordained unto adoption as sons through Jesus Christ unto Himself", and when I look to see what that means, I see that it means, "heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ" (Rom. 8:17), that we may reign with Him, and reigning is a tremendous thing because there is a whole power reigning in this universe now which is opposed to God, and that reign has got to be supplanted by what is according to God, and we have to do it. It is to be done through us. Foreordained unto that! That is a tremendous thing. Whatever we may be or may not be in ourselves, there is a significance about Christ's members which is unspeakably great. Tremendous issues are bound up with the church. Get on to that line and Satan knows all about you and then there is nothing in your life whatever but what has an effect or a value in the unseen.

I do feel that we should recognise this, because it will help us. It will be a warning to us; it will make us watchful. It ought to have the effect of checking up on all matters that we might otherwise regard as quite private matters, something in another realm of our life than church life. There is no such thing. We know it - that many a time we have tried to fight through on some really pressing spiritual issue and we have been worsted in the fight, not getting through, and we have had to ask the Lord why. Perhaps we have had to wait two or three days, or some time, and then the Lord has just said, "This is why!" - something which to us was altogether irrelevant, seemed to be of another order altogether, but it was that, and when that has been cleared up in our lives, the other thing has yielded. It will check us up.

But it will help us to recognise that when the enemy takes an interest in us and in our affairs, there is some value, there is some meaning, there is something on hand. We may not see what it is; that something may never become a crystallized thing here as on the earth. We may never here on this earth and in this world see the crystallization of the value or interest which caused such conflict, but somewhere something was happening which was of account to the Lord, for it says, "" (not unto men and women, not unto nations, and not unto the church itself), but now "unto principalities and powers in the heavenlies" the manifold wisdom of God is being made known by the church. I do not understand that, I do not know what that means, only in a very general way, because that is not our present realm. Our imagination, if we used it in that connection, would not help us very much. It would not help us very much to say, "Well, if we get up into heaven... we shall find a whole angelic order saying about God's dealings with us here on the earth: 'That is very wonderful!'" It does not help us very much when we are in trouble, to know that angels are getting the benefit. But this is God's Word that something is accruing to God by the spiritual life of believers here on the earth.

Our history counts for something in heaven and the fact that the enemy is such an interested and active spectator of the whole thing is the proof that what we are going through is not for nothing. It means something. Let us put everything in the realm where the Lord puts things and see that there is no detail in the life of the church which is without significance in the heavenlies, but all means something there. The Lord would have us keep everything in the light of the big conflict that is going on, and to see to it that nothing whatever in any aspect of our lives is overlooked as a factor in the battle.

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