Fellowship
by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 2 - Paul's Ground of Appeal to Fellowship

Reading: Phil. 2:1.

In our former meditation we sought to bring into view some of the great magnitudes which are bound up with the question of fellowship among the Lord's people. If we quietly sat back with this matter and allowed our minds to open and move in this connection, we should more and more be impressed with the tremendous importance, the great place, and with how much is bound up with spiritual fellowship. It would seem that in a very real way most of our problems are focused here, and that in touching this matter we are touching a whole host of other things. I feel that when once we come to the place where, with a sufficient recognition of the importance and the necessity for definitely fighting the battle of fellowship and making it an object of serious practical concern, a very large number of our problems, difficulties and other spiritual interests will be touched.

That is something stated, the content and import of which perhaps does not for the moment impress you, but if you will meditate upon it, no doubt you will be impressed by the fact that fellowship has been a battleground all the way through the ages. There has been a tremendous conflict on the ground of fellowship, spiritual fellowship, among the Lord's people.

If you look at the letters of Paul alone you will find sufficient to impress you with that fact. Almost every one of his letters is occupied at some point or other with this matter as something which has to be striven after, fought for, laid to heart, regarded with the utmost seriousness. And if this is nothing else than something which comes into the realm of real spiritual conflict or warfare, surely that is indicative of its importance and as to what the enemy's estimate of fellowship is as among the Lord's people. It would clearly indicate that this is a matter over which the enemy is prepared to spend himself untiringly and unceasingly, and we should never come down to the low level of regarding this matter as simply that of getting on amicably together as so many people. It represents something infinitely greater than that.

Even among the Philippians, over whom the apostle rejoiced so greatly, concerning whom he says such gracious and such heartfelt things of praise and appreciation, even there this question arises. It seems that no company of the Lord's people is too sacred to be invaded by spirits of division, and so we have this matchless fragment of inspired language in the second chapter of the Philippian letter. Note how it begins, the ground of the apostle's appeal to the Philippians on the matter of fellowship:

"If there is therefore any comfort in Christ..."

You notice that this repeated "if" is an effort on the part of the apostle to find a response. He is using these various stimuli by which to evoke a response. It is like a master physician dealing with a case which has gone so far, that all kinds of expedients need to be used to find some kind of response. This is tried, and that is tried, and something else is tried. And so the apostle repeatedly uses this word "if".

Will they respond? The first "if" brings in what our translation (not quite accurately) calls: "comfort in Christ". The real word there is "exhortation", "If there is therefore any exhortation in Christ". That is literally, if in Christ there is any appeal to your hearts, if your experience in Christ speaks to you at all, if you have such an experience in Christ that that experience makes an appeal to you! It is the difference between a merely formal professing Christian, whose relationship to Christ is such as to make no appeal to their heart at all, and one who has an experience of Christ, and who, because of that experience, finds that their very knowledge of Christ appeals to their heart. The apostle is putting it on that ground. He says, "Now if your very experience, your very life in Christ, makes an appeal to you, exhorts you..." He raises this matter to this level: "If you have such a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus that I have only to present this thing to you and you say, 'Yes, my very knowledge of Christ requires that of me!' Or, can you go on coldly and formally, as somebody who has no such inward personal experience of Christ?" Does your relationship with the Lord become a living exhortation in your heart? If you are alive to the voice of Christ in your own heart - that is what it means.

"If there is any consolation of love..."

Here again the translation needs a little adjusting. If any encouragement - not consolation, although it is included. Another word would be, "If any persuasiveness of love"; that is, if love has any power to stir you to listen to me. This is another stimulant. "If love has any power to move you to listen to me." What a test! If they do not respond to that, well, what kind of believers are they? If we do not respond to that, what kind of believers are we? Has love the power to move us?

"If there is any fellowship of the Spirit..."

That word "fellowship" can be translated, perhaps even more accurately, as "partnership". The Holy Spirit is presented in the Word as working towards an end. He is the Spirit of the unity of the Body. He is the Spirit Who brings out of disintegration a perfect whole, out of fragmentariness a completeness, out of chaos an order, out of division unity. The Holy Spirit is working to that end. He is here for that. The Spirit of the One Body, by Whom we are all baptised into, that One Body, is working. Now the apostle says; "if there is any partnership in the Spirit". We are fellow-workers with the Holy Spirit towards His end, and He says, "Are you? If you are in partnership, do this which I say!" It is a tremendous appeal. Are you in partnership with the Holy Spirit? Are you in fellowship with the Holy Spirit in His object? Are you in partnership with the Holy Spirit in His efforts for the unifying and solidity of the Body?

"If there are any tender mercies and compassions..."

Here the apostle uses two words: "tender mercies" - he says the word which really means the seat or organ of compassion. When He uses the word 'compassion', He uses another word by which He means the pity itself. One is the organ of compassion, and the other is the compassion. What He is really saying is, "If you have a heart and if in your heart there is any compassion...". What a challenge! He is coming to this case, shall we say to this clinic, and is testing it. Has it got a heart, or is it heartless? Having a heart, what is in it? Is there any compassion in this heart? "If you have a heart, and if in that heart there is any pity, make my joy complete; be of one mind."

Do you see all that hangs upon fellowship? Do you see all that is bound up with fellowship? If you know anything about the voice of the Lord in your heart, any exhortation; if you know any persuasiveness of love - or, if there is any persuasiveness in love - if there is any partnership with the Holy Spirit, if you have any heart and in your heart any compassion, then be of one mind. Do we rise to these stimulants? Do we respond? It determines at once our spiritual condition. That is the ground of the appeal. It is very high ground. The apostle is not just saying, "Now, do try and get on alright together, you Christians! Do make up your differences! Do overlook one another's imperfections! Do agree to differ on some things!" No. He lifts things right away into the full content of what it means to be in Christ. That is the force here, and that is what it means to be in Christ.

Then he sets all that in a much wider and vaster background, the background of the mind of Christ. He says, "be of one mind", but what mind? "Have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus..." (Phil. 2:5). What a background that is! If you meditate upon all that follows that phrase concerning the mind of Christ, you will see how far-reaching and deep-reaching this whole matter of fellowship is. You will see that in all that the apostle says, Christ has countered each element of the fall, and each element, therefore, of disruption. Look at it simply. "Have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus, Who, being (existing, ASV) in the form of God, counted not the being on an equality with God a thing to be grasped...". In the light of the context, what does that imply? Being in God-form and being on equality with God meant absolute fulness. He was filled with all the fulness of God. What was His attitude towards it, in view of that which had happened to disappoint the Father, and to rob God of something? He would not hold that fulness in a personal way, and so the Word says: "He emptied Himself." Personal fulness! Was not that right at the very root of the fall, and is not that right at the very root of disruption? Fulness held in a personal way. So the apostle says that we are not to look on our own things. The Lord Jesus, Who was filled with all the fulness of God, did not grasp it in a personal way, to hold it, but emptied Himself in order to undo the mischief of the fall.

It is a principle of redemptive work, and therefore, if the Church as His Body is the vessel of His Testimony, the Testimony of His great redemptive work, it is essential that the Church should represent this: no one seeking for fulness in a personal way, to have it in themselves. He emptied Himself.

He took the form of a servant. He took the form, as the margin says, of a bondservant. Surely that tells us that the mischief of the fall lay in the direction of a desire for personal superiority. In effect, whether Adam in his thoughts reasoned like this or not, the spiritual elements which were at work in him amounted to this, "Why should I be a servant when I could be a lord? Why should I be the bond-slave of God when I could be equal with God? (The serpent had suggested that). Why should I serve when I could be a master?" It was the revolt against being under orders, and when he thus rebelled, it was the disruption of God's world, the ruin of God's purpose. But He took the form of a bond-slave to undo it; He assumed, therefore, no personal superiority. The church must know nothing of that. Fellowship demands the utter ruling out of that. We are a company of servants, bond-slaves.

He was made in the likeness of men. What was Adam after? Was he revolting against being just a man? Was he reaching out to be God? The Word justifies our reading that into what the enemy was after. Immediately anyone desires a worth-ship, they put themselves in the place of God, and out of the place of man. What is worship? Appropriating the worth-ship, which, in principle, is getting into God's place. But He Who was God, while He never ceased to be other, yet took the form of man.... Oh, wonderful! That God should condescend to man-form! I do not suppose any of us would say that we wanted to be God, or would aspire to be God, but in our very being, because of the fall, there is that which wants to take the worth-ship. We like to be made something of. We hate to be ignored. We hate to be set at naught. We hate to be accounted as refuse. We might say in our pious moments that we do not mind being treated as a doormat, but let people try it, and keep at it! Then there is something there which piously might hold out for a time, but it finds us out. There is something of pride in this being of ours which likes to be made something of, to be recognised. The chief battle in many lives is in that direction. He took man-form; for the time being, He who was God let go the worship.

Do you see what He got in the place of worship? A crown of thorns, a reed, a smiting, and a spitting! Strange worship for the God of the universe! That mind is the mind of fellowship. Only as you and I have that mind will this fellowship be possible. "Being found in fashion as a man He humbled Himself." We need not stay to see the desire for honour and exaltation that is in every human heart in some form or another. Very few men and women really like being humble. Is it not because of that that a very great deal of strain, and not a few of the divisions and disruptions among the people of God have come about, together with a lack of humility, humbleness of mind and heart? On the other hand, there is a desire for honour, exaltation and place. He humbled Himself, becoming obedient. It is just the opposite to giving orders, being in command.

"Obedience unto death, yea the death of the cross." There is nothing more stripped of dignity than the Cross. Dignity! Ah, that finds us out. The death of the Cross so often works out that way in touching our dignity. We must die in the realm of our dignity so often.

We have only covered the ground in a superficial way, but you notice that the cumulative effect is the way to fellowship.

Fellowship is a tremendous thing in the purposes of God. That fellowship of the Spirit for which the apostle fought so long and faithfully, for which he made this great appeal, can only be realised in its many forms as this mind is in us which was in Christ Jesus: no self-fulness, no self-superiority, no self-mastery or leadership, no self-worthship, no self-exaltation and honour, no self-commanding, no self-dignity. It is the self element that is the evil one. Our dignity may be all very well sometimes for ourselves, but what about others, "Look not every man upon his own things, but every man also upon the things of others" (Phil. 2:4). It may be very good for us to begin to order about, but what about the people who are being ordered about? Someone has got to suffer when self comes in in any form. The sting of self is selfishness, which always hurts somebody.

These are strong words, but they are not too strong in view of the great thing which is before us. We just indicate one further point, but will not stay to dwell upon it. It relates to the positive side. God has always demanded the fellowship spirit in any vessel which He has used. You and I can say farewell to usefulness in the things of God - no, we shall not say farewell, we shall never have full usefulness in the things of God until we have learned the fellowship spirit. We may be leaders, but in our leadership we have got to have the fellowship spirit. There is no despotism. You can be a God-appointed leader and yet have fullest fellowship and work by the principle of corporation. That does not mean that we have all to be boiled down to a common level in the purpose. God appoints leaders, and He raises up instruments, but He does not make them superior; He always keeps them in the place of fellowship in order to be used. May He teach us more about it, and put it into our hearts to make it a business, not just trying to live a nice cheerful life together, but standing strongly in the Lord against every element that works against fellowship.


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