The Heavenly Calling, Conduct and Conflict of the Church

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 9 - The Heavenly Conflict

Reading: Ephesians 6:10-20.

Our feeling is that the Lord will occupy us in a still more definite and a fuller way with the third phase of things brought before us in the letter to the Ephesians, that is, the heavenly conflict of the people of God, the church, which is Christ's Body.

The letter, as we have been seeing, has three phases, all of which run into one another and are so related that we cannot take any one without the others. They are: the heavenly calling, the heavenly conduct, and the heavenly conflict. So we have to keep our eye closely upon the relatedness of them all in order to see the real meaning of each.

We will read that portion which specially refers to the heavenly conflict, which begins at Ephesians 6:10.

"Finally" (or from henceforth) - just note the significance of the word. It is not that 'the last thing I am going to say is this', it is a taking up of everything into this - 'All that I have said brings us to this - Now then, because of that, from henceforth... It is necessary from henceforth that you be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. From henceforth put on the whole armour of God...' - "Finally, be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of His might. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye 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. Wherefore take up the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and, having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; withal taking up the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: with all prayer and supplication praying at all seasons in the Spirit, and watching thereunto in all perseverance and supplication for all the saints, and on my behalf, that utterance may be given unto me in opening my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak."

The Heavenly Calling

In order to understand the meaning of the heavenly conflict, it is essential that we understand the nature of the heavenly calling and so, briefly we will look again at the calling and seek to get a summarized conception of that calling.

In our previous meditation, we went over a considerable number of fragments which had one feature, that which is indicated as being the purpose and intention of God in what He has done where we are concerned. What then, is the calling, the heavenly calling of the church? There is no one portion of Scripture which gives it all to us. We have to bring the fragments together, and as we do so they are almost like rungs of a ladder upon which to climb higher and higher until you see all that is in heaven in the thought of God, but here are some of those fragments:

"Having foreordained us unto adoption as sons through Jesus Christ... in whom we were made a heritage" (Eph. 1:5,11).

Well, that is something to begin with, something to put your feet upon. And here is another one -

"The unsearchable riches of Christ... the stewardship (dispensation in ASV) of the mystery which for ages has been hid in God who created all things; 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, according to the eternal purpose... unto Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus unto all ages (generations in ASV) for ever and ever" (Eph. 3:8-11,21).

Something else to lift you up to see the heavenly calling. Here is another fragment which we take from the Colossian letter.

"For in Him were all things created, in the heavens and upon the earth, things visible and things invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things have been created through Him and unto Him; and in Him all things consist. And He is the head of the body, the church; who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things He might have the pre-eminence" (Col. 1:16-18).

That is something further upon which to stand to see the calling, and to what we are called: all things in Him in every realm, and He is the Head, the all-inclusive Head, of the church which is His Body. The Body is called unto that - all things in Christ. Or again, going back to familiar words in the letter to the Romans:

"If children, then heirs; heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with Him, that we may be also glorified with Him... The earnest expectation of the creation waits for the revealing of the sons of God" (Rom. 8:17,19).

"For whom He foreknew, He also foreordained to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren; and whom He foreordained, them He also called; and whom He called, them He also justified; and whom He justified, them He also glorified" (Rom. 8:29-30).

Well, that is tremendous language! That is the calling, the heavenly calling. To sum it up, the calling is this: our ultimate conformity to the image of God's Son and the manifestation of that conformity issuing in our identification with Him in the administration of all things in heaven and in earth. The Lord Jesus has eventually to have all things summed up in Himself. In all things He is to have the pre-eminence, and there is no meaning at all in the statement that He is, in that very connection, Head of the church which is His Body unless as Head, functioning according to the very purpose of a head, He works out all things through His Body. So He is destined, determined from eternity, to be God's administrative Head in heaven and on earth, and we were chosen in Him - foreordained unto adoption as sons, foreordained to be conformed to the image of His Son, to be glorified with Him and to administer in heaven and in earth by Him. That is the calling.

God's interests have ever been as much bound up with that calling as have ours. He has an inheritance in the saints as well as we having an inheritance in Christ. This is what may be called God's masterpiece - a church in union with Christ as Head - and God is going to display in this universe His masterpiece. When I call it that, I am only giving another name to 'the mystery'. God has cherished through all eternity a secret, cherished it as a secret through all past ages and generations, but now by His Spirit, has disclosed it through His holy apostles and prophets, and the secret is out. It is God's masterpiece revealed. He has been working on it and He is working on it, and the whole creation waits for its consummation - the manifestation of the sons of God. This is the calling, the heavenly calling, of the church. This is a tremendous thing. When we have seen it really in a spiritual way, even in a small measure, then we are able to understand the heavenly conflict, but not before. We do not know what the conflict is all about, we do not know the nature of it until we know the calling to final conformity to the image of God's Son and identification with Him in the administration of all things in heaven and on earth.

Satan's Unlawful Aspiration

Well then, was this the position to which Satan aspired with his angels? Have we anything in the Word of God that would lead us to think that that explains things? I am not going to go through the whole Bible on the subject of Satan, but I just want to indicate one or two things. Let us look at some little, but tremendous, fragments.

"Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth" (John 8:44. A.V.).

It is a case of the enemy not being in a certain position which he once had. "He... abode not in the truth".

"I beheld Satan fallen as lightning from heaven" (Luke 10:18).

I do not believe, as some modern interpreters have said, that that had anything to do with what had just transpired when the apostles returned and said that even the demons were subject unto them. I believe that when the Lord said, "I beheld Satan fall as lightning from heaven", He is referring to this - "he abode not in the truth". At least a suggestion of that is made in Isaiah 14. While it is taken up historically in connection with Babylon, the principle of Babylon is the principle of Satan: "How art thou fallen from heaven, O day-star, son of the morning! ...thou saidst... I will exalt my throne above the stars of God... I will make myself like the Most High" (Isa. 14:12-14).

"Not a novice, lest being puffed up" (or overtaken with pride) "he fall into the condemnation" (or judgment) "of the devil" (1 Tim. 3:6).

You see the connection. "Thou saidst, I will exalt my throne. I will be equal with the Most High" - "Thou art fallen..." into what? The apostle Jude will tell us, and Peter will tell us. We will let Peter show us first of all.

"For if God spared not angels when they sinned, but cast them down to hell, and committed them to pits of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment..." (2 Pet. 2:4).

"And angels that kept not their own principality, but left their proper habitation, He has kept in everlasting bonds under darkness unto the judgment of the great day" (Jude 6).

Now, there we have in a few fragments, to which of course a great many more could be added, a history which was the consequence of something. It was the consequence of an unlawful aspiration to a position which was reserved for someone else. What was the position? Administrative authority as second in the universe to God. Here, of course, it is speculation - I do not think it is unlawful speculation or speculation without some Scriptural warrant, but certainly without actual statement in the matter, it seems to me that those counsels of the Godhead of which we read in Ephesians, the Godhead in counsel about this whole matter of the Son and the church as being God's elect vessel for His universal administration, those counsels got out in heaven. I am not suggesting that they got out unlawfully. It may have been they were made known to angels, of which angels Satan was very high in order at least; he was 'the covering cherub'. And iniquity or unrighteousness was found in his heart, it says.

What is unrighteousness? When you track down all the meaning of righteousness and unrighteousness, you come to this: it is not letting God have His rights, usurping God's rights. Unrighteousness was found in him, and there was evidently a conspiracy in heaven against God's Christ and the church, to have the place God's counsels had appointed for Christ and His members, to have that place, to administer. From the time of that revolt, through all the forms and phases of its expression in history, you can clearly see that the whole direction of things in opposition to God is to have world dominion without God, to put God out of His world, to take the inheritance and reign in it without God. That is what is going on today. It is heading up fast and manifestly in our own time. It lay behind Babylon, it lay behind Egypt, and it lies behind all dictatorships which are out for world dominion without recognition and acknowledgment of God. That is here on the earth, but it is a much bigger thing in the heavens.

The Explanation of the Conflict

Now, if what we have been saying is true, we see the purpose of the church in, first of all, Christ - by Him, through Him, unto Him - all things, and He is Head. Then, we were chosen in Him and foreordained to be conformed to His image, and now by the church unto the principalities and powers (not those principalities and powers, but a higher order) the manifold wisdom of God being shown and in the ages to come. Then unto God glory in the church by Christ Jesus unto all ages for ever and ever. Now, if it is true that Satan aspired to that, that his ambition led him, with a host of accomplices, a mighty host of angels which kept not their right habitation, did not keep within their province but moved out of it, sought to enter into a province which was not theirs but ours and Christ's, then today we understand the conflict. We can surely see that the explanation of all this spiritual warfare is the inheritance. It is the throne, it is the dominion of the church, and immediately you come into touch with the heavenly, you come into touch with a great system of antagonism and you are in the battle.

Now in a few minutes, let us bring this down to one or two quite definite and specific features or factors. This conflict focuses itself upon certain things.

The Conflict in Relation to Spiritual Knowledge

One specific feature of this heavenly warfare is that of its concentration upon spiritual knowledge - to prevent it. If you will look at this letter to the Ephesians again, you will see that one of the big issues in relation to the calling and the purpose is spiritual knowledge.

"For this cause", for this reason, because of this calling, "I cease not to... make mention of you in my prayers; 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; having the eyes of your heart enlightened, that ye may know what is the hope of His calling...".

The conflict gathers round spiritual knowledge, because spiritual knowledge is essential to spiritual maturity and spiritual maturity is the same as coming to the realisation of the purpose. Spiritual knowledge, knowledge by revelation of the Holy Spirit, is a thing which is contested by all the powers of evil. We are not going to come to the inheritance 'willy-nilly'. The church is not coming to the inheritance, to maturity, or to its appointed place, automatically. We are not going to get there because God has appointed that we shall get there. Oh, do lay this to heart! We are going to get there, the church is going to get there, as it has spiritual revelation, and not without. You say it is a poor lookout for the church. Well, all right, but this is a fact, and this presents to us and constitutes for us our business before God as to ourselves, that upon which we have got to focus prayer unceasingly.

You see, we are in the section on conflict in the sixth chapter - "praying always at all seasons in the Spirit ... for all the saints". What are you going to pray for all saints? It is all very well to say 'Pray for all saints'. Do you mean we will always be asking the Lord, 'Bless So-and-so, bless these people, bless those people'? That is not what the apostle means. Of course, pray like that for all saints and have them in your heart, but that is not what is here in Ephesians 6 or in Ephesians at all, not just asking the Lord to bless all Christians in general and in particular as we may mention them.

No, this prayer, which is warfare - it is warfare prayer that is here, it is a part of the conflict - this prayer is gathered right into everything else. A real battle is on. We are girded for the battle; we are prepared for the battle: we are standing into the battle of the heavenlies, and, as a part of the very battle - prayer. What is this battle prayer, this warring prayer? It is for all saints that they might know. It corresponds to what Paul himself has been saying to them - "I cease not to pray for you". In the companion letter, (which is only a part of this letter to the Ephesians) the letter to the Colossians, he says, "I would have you know what great conflict I have for you, and for them at Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh" (Col. 2:1).

What great conflict! Where was Paul having conflict for them? Why, he was in prison when he wrote that, so he could not be doing anything else for them but praying. He could not be running about doing all sorts of things for Christians, but he said, "What great conflict I have". It was warring prayer, and unto what end? That they might know, the eyes of their hearts being enlightened. And you and I are not going to get one ray of spiritual light cheaply. The enemy is going to contest it up to the hilt, and the church is not going to get true Holy Spirit revelation only as some come into the battle to fight it through in prayer. That is what our prayer gatherings are for pre-eminently. We do not come together just to ask the Lord's blessing on a lot of people. That may be good, but it is not the supreme object. Our getting together ought to be unto battle, and a battle with spiritual forces which are trying to withhold light and revelation from the Lord's people, from the church, and by withholding it, keeping the church in immaturity, from coming to its place of dominion. Does that reach you? Are you ready to lay yourselves out in that battle?

You see today that there is no want of Bible teaching; there never was a time when there was so much Bible teaching and conferences. There never was a time when there were so many books on Bible study available, but there is an appalling lack of the impact of the absolute power of Christ exalted upon the powers of darkness. And alongside of the immense resource in Biblical literature and conferences, there is a growing consciousness of spiritual weakness. As we have said in one of our books, these great conventions very often are, if only seen to be so, a tragic declaration. We cannot look upon big conferences and say with anything of gloating in our heart, 'This is a great success. This represents good work. This means something fine going on'. What sort of doctor do you think he would be who, if he had queues of people down the street waiting to get into his surgery, would say, 'You see what a successful man I am, this all speaks of my medical skill'. That is a purely personal and distorted conception. If he were a true man he would say, 'This is a demonstration of far more sickness than we medicals want to see. We have not got our profession in view, our influence. No, we want to see all this wiped out. The day when there are no sick people to come is the day we are looking for'.

Thousands attend conferences continually. What are they for? Listen to what is being given and you will hear the meaning of this. Christians of twenty, thirty, forty years' standing are having to be dealt with upon the question of surrender to Christ. That is appalling. Surely there is a spiritual malady here, and that is growing, with all that there is available. What is the matter? The church is not able to stand up to the powers of evil, to go through as it should, "Clear as the sun, fair as the moon, terrible as an army with banners" - an enemy has done this thing! He has succeeded in keeping - not Bible teaching, but real spiritual revelation from the church, and you know quite well that once you get a real inward revelation of the Lord, you come into a very powerful position. The enemy is at once cast down and has no power. The focal point, therefore, of this great warfare is spiritual knowledge.

I want you to recognise this tremendous factor in the warfare. All the purpose is bound up with the revelation of the purpose, and all the warfare is concentrated against that revelation coming through. It is a call to us to battle. How our hearts are so often grieved when prayer simply takes a circuit round the globe on all sorts of trivialities, all sorts of things which, while they may be quite good in their way, are not really touching the forces of evil. How we long for occasions when someone, really touched with the vital issue, takes up the battle in prayer, the battle for the church's enlightenment, knowledge in a spiritual way concerning its heavenly calling, its heavenly vocation, its great destiny in the thought of God.

Will you ask the Lord to bring you into that battle? Of course, you have got to have a position yourself in some degree before you can take it up for others. Ask the Lord about this; fight through on this; stand and withstand against the forces of evil which are seeking to keep you out of revelation. Lay hold of your exalted Lord for your birthright, the knowledge of your inheritance, your calling, and then give yourselves to seek that all the saints may know what is the hope of their calling, what is the riches of His inheritance in the saints, what is the exceeding greatness of His power.

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