The Heavenly Calling, Conduct and Conflict of the Church

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 10 - An Adequate Motive for the Conflict

We continue in our meditation in the letter to the Ephesians. In our previous meditation we went on to be more definitely occupied with the third phase of this letter, which is from Ephesians 6:10-20, that is, the heavenly conflict of the people of God. The first phase is the heavenly calling; the second, the heavenly conduct; now, the heavenly conflict.

Let us seek at the outset to really know what this letter is about. In the first place, it is the bringing out in fulness of all that which has been revealed elsewhere in fragments in particular connections. That is, in other parts of the New Testament we have parts of the revelation of God's heart and mind related to particular situations and needs. They are the different parts of the great doctrines of grace and they are emphasised in different letters and books for special and immediate purposes, but when you come to the letter to the Ephesians, you find that everything is being gathered up in a comprehensive way with one all-inclusive object in view. And that object is to show - not that God wants people saved, that He has shown elsewhere; not that He wants people sanctified, that He has shown elsewhere; not that God wants this and that and a whole lot of things to be true in people's lives. That has all been said elsewhere, but this letter is to show why God wants all that, what it is all for and unto. Why would God have people saved and sanctified and everything else? So we find that this letter brings us to a particular aspect on life, I mean: position, attitude, way of viewing things, and it draws a very great distinction. And until you and I have recognised that distinction, we are not ready for all that lies behind God's works of grace, revelation, and mercy on our behalf.

The distinction is this. Is it our interest in view, or is it God's? You can divide Christians into two classes on that difference. You can find a great multitude of Christian people who have embraced God's salvation and are rejoicing in it as something for themselves. Very good, I am not saying that that is wrong, but for them the Christian life in all its aspects, phases, and features, is self-ward. What they have got they are rejoicing in because it is theirs: 'I am saved, I am on the happy way to salvation, I can read my title clear to mansions in the sky. I am going to glory. I have got the Lord'. It is all that, and what they have not got, but do vaguely discern yet to be had, is sought after still, to enlarge their own borders. They want power, they want more blessing: the larger blessing, the second blessing, and the nine hundredth blessing! They want it all for themselves. It is all like that. They are after things to enlarge their own salvation and their own experience, and if there is a blessing to be had they are after it because they want it. You see what I mean. That may not be wrong in a sense, it may be very good, but that is an aspect of Christian life, something in itself, and I think the majority of Christians are there. I think that explains the feverish, restless quest of so many for something more. They want it.

Well now, there is another aspect and the other aspect is God's interest in it all, the position which says, 'But why has the Lord saved me? Why does the Lord want me sanctified? Why does the Lord from His own side desire me to take this course and go this way, to be this and to do that? What does this mean to the Lord? What does the Lord mean by this?' - and there are not too many people in that category. It is another class, but I want us just to get a very clear understanding of the meaning of this, the value of this.

When you come to the letter to the Ephesians, you are not coming to another Christian life, or something different and other than the Christian life that you have in Romans or elsewhere, but what you are coming to is a predominant word or idea, and that word is 'purpose', and it is emphasised and reiterated: "According to the eternal purpose which He purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord". As we pointed out in a previous meditation, that word 'according' in this letter is a tremendously significant word. According to... according to.... Again and again we have that phrase, and you look to see what all this is according to, and you find that it is according to something that God had in mind, according to something that God purposes and intends, and according to a provision which God has made in order to reach a certain end. It is all gathered round this 'according to the eternal purpose', and so you find that everything is here. Yes, salvation is here, redemption is here, forgiveness of sins is here. "In whom we have our redemption, the forgiveness of our sins". That is in Ephesians. But there is another aspect. Not that we have redemption, the forgiveness of our sins for ourselves, for our own blessing or blessedness, but according to the eternal purpose, with that in view. And so this letter brings in God's side of things which is pre-eminent, God's interest in our salvation, the riches of His inheritance in the saints, in whom we have been made a heritage - something for God, something for Christ, and until you and I have seen this great difference of aspect, we are not able to go on very far. After all, life will be marked by severe limitations, for this letter to the Ephesians, so-called, sets forth fulness. That is its great factor. "That ye may be filled unto all the fulness of God". "The fulness of Him that fills all in all". "Till we all attain unto... the fulness of Christ". Fulness is in view here, but fulness is inseparably bound up with this aspect - that it is what God has in view and not just what we have in blessing.

Now, that is easily illustrated from the life of Israel in the Old Testament. Israel is found in Egypt, four hundred years in bondage, in slavery, in oppression, in adversity, under the heel of a master. It was a type of the unsaved, unregenerate child of God in the bondage of the world, Satan, and sin. Now Israel groaned by reason of their taskmasters and their burdens, groaned for salvation, groaned for deliverance, groaned to be set free from this terrible state of life. Well, God at length intervened. But when God intervened, His intervention is made perfectly clear to be according to a thought in His mind for Himself. To Pharaoh, the challenge and demand is, "Let My son go, that he may serve Me" (Ex. 4:23). That is the aspect in God's mind. It is a pleasure for Himself, for His own pleasure, for His own glory, for His own satisfaction, and with that in view, with that as the Divine motive, God intervened with tremendous power and brought them out by an outstretched hand and a bared arm.

But Israel drew their salvation to themselves and their whole aspect was of this thing being for them. Of course, that is understandable in a certain sense and to a certain extent. If we had been in the awful state that they had been in for so long and then got out, we would rejoice very much in the salvation which was something in itself, which was our blessing. That is all right, but there is a snare about that.

They are out now, they are over the Red Sea; Egypt lies behind and the enemy has been broken. But do you notice the kind of history that begins from that time? The whole of the history of the following thirty-eight years is one of a self-ward aspect in the matter of the things of God, and they judge everything according to how it will be to their blessing and their good, with the result that the slightest adversity finds them all over the place. It is not long after they are out that they meet a difficulty - the waters of Marah, the bitter waters which could not be drunk and they murmured.... So it begins and so it goes on for thirty-eight years. The slightest little hitch in things, the smallest difficulty, anything that did not go right, that did not please them, did not gratify them, or was not for their present and immediate pleasure, found them murmuring against God, murmuring against God's servant, and that explains the long-drawn-out period of spiritual weakness and spiritual ineffectiveness. Yes, when God removed the difficulty and overcame the adversity for them, whatever it was, they were up in the air again, rejoicing in salvation. What a wonderful salvation they had got! What a wonderful Lord He was! But it only lasted twenty-four hours, that is, until the next difficulty arose, and then the salvation was not nearly so wonderful, the Lord was not nearly so wonderful. It depends on what realm you live in and what your aspect is. That is where they were, and the whole cause and explanation was this self-ward aspect in the matter of the things of God.

They never got through on that. There is no possessing on that ground or along that line. We can never possess the land while that is our attitude. That is the point here. The people who went in to possess the land had to be of another kind altogether, a subsequent generation, and the motive and attitude of their whole heart had to be the Lord's good pleasure. They had to take the attitude - 'The Lord brought us out of Egypt for His own ends and purposes, for His own glory, for His own pleasure and satisfaction, and we are going into the land for God, not for ourselves, for God's satisfaction'. You notice that that generation that perished in the wilderness, when it came to the borders of the land was turned back and died, because its attitude as it looked at the land was the attitude from which it had looked at everything all through those years: the attitude from which it looked at the waters of Marah, at the lack of food in the wilderness, the absence of water - the self-ward attitude in Divine things bringing defeat every time. And at last the whole thing was gathered up, all the thirty-eight years, you may say, crowded into the final attitude. They looked at the land, they saw the cities walled up, they saw the giants, they saw all the difficulties, and they saw how all this threatened their own convenience, their own pleasure, their own good; what a menace this was to them. There were only two men who took a different point of view and they said, 'If the Lord delight in us, He will bring us in'; they had an idea of the Lord's pleasure about it all. It was that succeeding generation which had another aspect that went in to possess.

That brings us to Ephesians; it is God's purpose in our coming out of Egypt; it is God's purpose in our salvation; it is God's purpose in our sanctification; it is God's purpose in our discipline and training; it is what God has in view. And until we are really gripped at the centre of our being with this Divine thought of the eternal purpose lying behind everything, we will never go through into the land. The letter to the Ephesians, as we have so often said, is the counterpart of the book of Joshua. That is, it spreads the land of Divine purpose and promise before us: the fulness of Christ to be inherited. But you and I will never come into God's purpose until we have got God's aspect.

Well, that becomes perfectly patent when there are enemies about, and this is the next thing that I want to point out. It is an interesting and significant thing that although God has secured the land, every foot of it, it is in His possession, and although God has settled for ever from eternity that the church is to possess it, and with Him the church is as good as in possession of it all, and although it is God's good pleasure and will and determination that the whole shall be possessed, He allows seven mighty nations to bar the way; Ephesians 6 - in the heavenlies, principalities and powers, world-rulers of this darkness, hosts of wicked spirits. Why? Well, that is just the Divine logic, reason, and wisdom. You see that those enemies put there for Israel, kept their motive pure. You may take it that immediately Israel should have reverted to the old wilderness aspect of our blessing and convenience, that would have been an end of possession. It proved to be, as a matter of fact, in their history just that. But while they see that this is God's way, God's will, God's interest, and they are not out first of all for their own pleasure and satisfaction, but they are out for the glory of God, then, enemies or no enemies, it is the same. They are going right on.

You see, the motive power of meeting the enemy is the motive power of the glory of God, the satisfaction of God. We will never face the enemy if we have got personal interests. If there is any self-interest in Divine things, we will not stand up to the enemy when he comes out in full force against us. There are enemies and the Lord has left them in the land to keep our motive pure. Do you grasp that? Do you see the meaning of that?

Here we are, then, in Ephesians. It follows on that great section about the conduct of the church, the people of God. Many things are touched upon in almost every realm of their lives; things which are pointed out as needing to be watched against, adjusted, kept right, all sorts of things. And these things come right home to the personal life of the believer and touch home very pointedly on personal interests. You and I are not going to deal with those things, we are not going to take account of all those matters which touch us home so directly unless we have got a higher motive than our own good, are we? It would be ridiculous. We should only be fighting ourselves and defeating our own ends by the very things that we are doing. No, we have something other in view; we have got the calling in view; we have got this great intention of God in view; we have got God's standpoint in view, what He is after, what He has got bound up with us, and our hearts are now toward the Lord. Therefore we will do two things: we will see that all the ground that the enemy might have for success is taken away, and we will face the enemy himself.

Ephesians 4:1-6:9 represents the ground of the enemy, and though it is to our own personal hurt, we will take the ground away from him, and then, having taken his ground away, we will assail him and bring glory to God. But for all that, you want something more than a personal interest in salvation. You must be gripped by the great concern and interest of the Lord in everything. You must see that the end of all this, from the Lord's standpoint, is that He shall have a people presently who will be to Him an instrument by which He, through His Son, can administer His great created universe. That is the calling.

Now there is this third thing. We have spoken about the ground of Satan which has to be taken away. We pointed out in our previous meditation that when God, in the counsels of the Godhead in eternity past, as this letter shows, decided, planned, arranged and purposed that in the eternal ages to come He would administer all things in heaven and in earth by means of His Son and the members of His Son's Body, the saints of this dispensation, Satan, who was a great principality in the angelic realm, a great personage in heaven, got to know somehow about that intention of God, and he had counsels with a great company of angels, and he influenced them in the direction of usurping that place appointed for God's Son, of taking away from the Son of God and the church that which had been appointed for them of administrative position in God's universe. That led to the revolt in heaven and that casting down from heaven of Lucifer, and that casting out from heaven of those angels of whom the apostle speaks - the angels who kept not their first estate now held in everlasting chains unto judgment.

But do you see the motive? What was the motive of Satan and his followers? It was a self-ward motive in Divine things, it was drawing Divine things toward himself for his glory, for his satisfaction, for his pleasure; a self-ward aspect in Divine things, heavenly things. What is the result? Well, Satan and his hosts have had a good deal of power through the ages, but it has not altered God's intention and will not make one whit of difference to the ultimate issue. Satan is doomed, not only to have lost heaven, but everything else as well. God will have His church where He intended it to be. God will have for His Son that which He intended Him to have. It is going to be realised.

But neither the Son nor the church can come to God's end by any self-ward aspect in Divine things, and so the Son Himself must let go all to have all, let go His own rights - and that is the meaning of Philippians 2. Though He existed in God form, He reckoned it not something to be grasped at, to be held on to, saying in effect, 'These are My rights; I am not going to let them go', but He emptied Himself and came down, down to the death, yea, the death of the cross, and got everything that way. So that every personal interest in Divine things has got to be let go unto the place where it is all the Lord's interests. What was true of the Son has got to be true of all the sons in this matter. The Son's attitude was not for Himself but for the Father: "Not My will, but Thine". "I delight to do Thy will". It is the pleasure and glory and satisfaction of the Father that is the one all-consuming passion of the Son, and for that He let go everything, and that has got to be reproduced in the church. It is the true Spirit of sonship, and He fought that battle in the wilderness: "This is My beloved Son". Satan knew what that meant, "And of the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever". "Satan knew all about that. This is the Son! "If Thou be the Son..." it is the battle of Sonship and the inheritance - the kingdoms of this world in the final issue and more than that; the battle of Sonship and the inheritance fought out then - a tremendous battle!

On what ground is the victory won? It is self-emptying all the time. "Not My need, not My satisfaction, not even My Life. I may be starving, but it is not My life, man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God shall man live." It is the God-ward aspect. "Not My work, not how I wish to be accredited among men by casting Myself down from the pinnacle and making a reputation for Myself and gaining an immediate following. No, it is not My work and it is not My kingdom, My throne. The whole question for the moment is My Father's pleasure, My Father's glory, My Father's satisfaction, and if for the time being I must go the way of privation, the way of rejection, and the way of having no kingdom at all, and the Father wants Me to take that way, it is the Father who is going to be obeyed". And that is the church's way; not the church's vindication now, or the church's glory, the church's acceptance; not a kingdom of this world. Satan has secured far too much in Christendom along that line and spoilt everything. There must not be found in us the slightest trace of that thing that was in Satan when he aspired to a position for his own glory. It must be wholly and utterly God's satisfaction and pleasure, and that is the way to the kingdom; that is the way to the fulness, that is the way to the heavenlies, that is the way into the land.

That is the principle of the life which is the full life. All this letting go of all that is personal is not real loss. All this emptying, after all, may seem painful to the flesh, this humbling of ourselves, this depriving of our natural life of things - it may have a painful aspect for us naturally, but this is the way of spiritual fulness. You are after fulness. What do you want it for? Let me put that another way: you are after fulness, how do you think you are going to get it? You are not going to get fulness by reaching out for personal blessing. You find that that opens the door to a lot or things that are not blessings at all in the long run. They prove to be false blessings, but real Divine heavenly fulness comes along the line of letting personal interests and blessing go in the interest of the Lord, for the glory and satisfaction of the Lord, that He may have His inheritance in us, that we may be to Him a heritage.

I know that is not the usual way of looking at things, and it may not be the most interesting way. Of course it is not to the flesh, but that is the true way of fulness - there is no doubt about it. Are you wanting spiritual fulness, really wanting to come into all that is meant by the heavenly life of fulness? Well, first of all, what for? Why? Are you wanting to have the enjoyment of it all yourself, wanting to feel the blessedness of it, to know in yourself the power of it, to come to the position of advantage which it will mean to be there? Well, it is just that that is going to stop you getting it.

I am not speaking without my book. In the course of the years, I have had to do with a great many people who have laid themselves out for months of praying and fasting and giving themselves to all degrees in order to obtain something they call a 'blessing'. I need not mention what the blessings were that they were after, but they were after it, after it. And some of them have got something and when they have got it, they are not so sure about it, not so sure whether it is a blessing or not. It is an 'it'. It causes them a lot of trouble. Some of them have not got it at all. But I have seen those people come to the place where God has started a process of taking them down, taking the whole of their spiritual life apart, piece by piece, bringing them right down to their very foundations, so that at the bottom of things they wondered where they were, whether all their spiritual experience has been genuine or not, brought them right down to rock bottom, and then has started to deal with them in a constructive way on another principle entirely; not now the Christian life in any one point for themselves, not salvation for themselves. And the upshot of it all for such people has been this: 'Lord, I do not want anything unless it is for Your glory; I had rather be without anything than that it should not be according to Your own mind', and they have come to that through a good deal of suffering. Ah, but then we have seen a new life, we have seen a depth, we have detected a new note, and others have found a new usefulness, a new value. There is something there now which is not personal. It was all personal once, and it was making people want things, but now it is not that, it is the Lord.

You may not be able to discern all the difference that that means, but it is a tremendous thing when we come through that transition from what, although it may have been quite honest, sincere, and transparently innocent, was nevertheless just the mark of spiritual childhood, the pleasures of the Christian life as personal things - that transition through into the place where we do not want even the Christian life unless God is going to get all that He wants, where now the aspect is different. It is the Lord and His purpose, and you see what that means.

I dare not start upon another fragment of this now, but I just indicate that what the letter to the Ephesians is seeking to bring us to is the place of spiritual competence. This last section brings us to the place where now we are in the battle - for what? Our salvation? No, a thousand times, no! Our preservation? No, not at all. There was a battle for salvation in Egypt, and there was a battle for preservation in the wilderness, but they are not this battle in the heavenlies. It is the battle for the full purpose.

Now, that section begins with, "From henceforth, be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of His might" - competent Christians who are not now in the battle of their salvation, that is settled; and they are not in the defensive battle of the wilderness for their preservation, but they are in the battle in the land and that is neither unto salvation nor to preservation. It is unto glory, it is unto fulness, it is unto purpose, and that requires competent Christians.

The battle in Egypt did not find them able to do anything in it at all, and no one who has not already come to an assurance of salvation can fight. That is why God had to fight Pharaoh for Israel. In the wilderness the battle was defensive. They would never have been able to meet the seven nations of the land in their wilderness condition. That means this: that no one who is still struggling with his own flesh can deal with the devil effectively. In the wilderness, it was the 'I' life all the time, and therefore the fight there is always on the defensive. They are right down on that level of fighting the battle in the weakness of the flesh just to preserve them in some kind of position in Christ. That will not do. When you come to the land those things are left behind. You have settled the whole conflict of your salvation. That is a finished thing, thank God! There is no question about that - that battle is all over. Moreover, you are past the place and the position where you are all the time having to struggle with yourself, fighting your own nature. You know now blessedly something of the meaning of the cross for deliverance from that. Do you? Have you got past the self aspect of things? Well, when you come to the land, because all that is behind, that kind of struggle and conflict, you are free, and you are in a position of spiritual competence to fight the Lord's battles, not your own, and that is spiritual competence, that is spiritual maturity, and that is what the Lord needs.

But again, you and I will never be able to fight the heavenly battles, the battles of the great purpose of God in fulness until we have got right away from all personal interests in the Christian life, whatever they may be, at every point, and have got over on to the place where, if the enemy hits hard - and he will - and we have some bad days under his pressure, and we shall - and the battle may be long-drawn-out and sometimes very wearing, nevertheless, we are not weakened by any personal conditions. We have a great objective which is governing us.

You notice, in modern wars and conflicts of nations how necessary it is in order to keep men at it, that the greatness of the call should ever be kept before them and it is known quite well by the leaders that, immediately men begin to say, 'What are we getting out of this?' the day is up, the war is lost. If men are allowed to look at themselves and ask such questions, then you may take it the fight is finished. So it is necessary in order to keep men going in the battle, to keep the great cause in view, something that is not personal: 'You are fighting for a great cause!' Of course, it is all so foolish down here, and so often proves to be so mixed up, that when it is all over, we wonder where the great cause is. But it is true up in the heavenlies. There is a great cause, and until you and I have seen, with the eyes of our heart open, the hope of His calling, the riches of His inheritance in the saints, the eternal purpose, until then we will not keep going in the battle. We need to see to go on. May the Lord show it to us and keep it fully in view.

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