Reading: Acts 2:42; Phil. 2:1; 2 Cor. 13:14.
We read in the second chapter of the letter to the Philippians, with which the Holy Spirit brings us clearly into touch with such tremendous appeal, that fellowship - as the apostle puts it: "being of one mind" - is based upon the elimination and ruling out of personal elements in every direction. There is a sevenfold movement on the part of the Lord Jesus from equality with God to obedience unto death, yea the death of the cross, and in each of those steps there is some aspect of self-emptying, the emptying of some phase of what could be had and held in a personal way, until the end is reached where everything of a personal character has been laid aside. That is the background against which the apostle makes his tremendous appeal, "Be of the same mind...". So that clearly, personal elements of every kind have to go, in order to have the fellowship of the Spirit.
If the Lord Jesus is the model to which God ever works, then we shall expect that in the case of every one of those who come into relationship with Him for His purposes, there will be an application and a working out of that principle. It will be necessary for the servant to go the way of the Master, and although no servant will ever make so great a condescension, because no servant has ever occupied so high a place and possessed so great a fulness, nevertheless as men it will be necessary for everything of a personal character to be dealt with. So we are able to trace the working of that in the life of every one whom God has in any way laid hold of in relation to His purpose. For this present moment our object is to note it. If we are not able to exhaust the whole matter in each case, we will just note it in the case of those outstanding men, those men who have themselves become types of the great Antitype, types for us of God's ways with men when they are livingly related to His end.
We begin with Abraham. The lessons of Abraham's life are numerous, but in the midst of all the other things which come for our instruction through him, there is this one thing which is undoubtedly for our instruction: how God emptied Abraham of the personal element. It may have been largely a personal tendency or danger, it may have become an actuality, but God saw to it that that thing did not remain or develop, as the case may be.
Everything for Abraham in relation to God was bound up with Isaac. We know that Isaac was impossible along any natural line, and therefore he was the gift of God, the result of a supernatural activity, and God bound up everything for Abraham's life and future with Isaac. Abraham's vision was in Isaac. Abraham's hope and destiny were bound up with Isaac. Then the Lord one day commanded Abraham to offer Isaac as a sacrifice, and in the following out of the Divine command, Isaac was brought to the place, as good as dead. It only required the space of time necessary to bring the hand down in one swift flash, and Isaac would have been dead. In God's acceptance it was as good as done. In Abraham's heart it was as good as done. And so the apostle is quite right in saying that in a way, he received him back from the dead.
What we see as part of the meaning of this is that God was taking even a Divinely given thing out of the realm of man's personal holding. No doubt Abraham's heart had so gone out to Isaac that he was at least inclined to hold Isaac very dear to himself, to bind Isaac to himself. And the Lord would put Isaac beyond all the control, all the possessiveness of man on his natural side, in an earthly way, and put Isaac out into a realm where he was utterly and only of God, which is always the case when it is a matter of resurrection.
We can see quite clearly in this a lesson which is of very wide application, that it is possible for us to have something given us of God: a vision, a vocation, something which undoubtedly came from the Lord, it was not of our own producing, our own seeking; it never came by way of our effort; we could never have come to it of ourselves. It was of the Lord, a call, a ministry, a place, a vision, or something else; God-given without a doubt. Then the day comes when, by the Lord's own act, it is taken away, brought to the altar, and no longer seems to be of God. It looks as though He Himself contradicts Himself in our lives, and we come to the place where we have to let it go. We know that we are challenged by God; this is no incident, not mere chance, not just the outworking of natural conditions. God has met us, and although not in the same words but in our hearts quite as definitely, we know God has said: "Take now your vision, your vocation, your call, your sphere, whatever it is, and hand it all over, let it go, give it back!" Very often that is because the Lord is wanting to put it in a realm where the personal hold upon it ceases. The thing can only be limited if we have any personal possessiveness or interest in the Lord's work or in the things of the Lord. To have it in the realm of the limitless, the eternal, the place where death cannot touch it, where no power of earth can interfere with it, it has to become altogether severed from our natural, personal control, hold, or government. It has to get out into the realm where only God possesses and holds and governs.
That is a very important thing for every child of God, and especially for every servant of God, to recognise. It is something which runs as a governing truth throughout everything in relation to the Lord. The Lord, sooner or later, with all those who are going all the way with Him, requires that even things which have come from Him, His own precious gifts, are let go by us personally, to be had only in the Lord. And if we count it something to be grasped at, that is, to have it for ourselves personally, we lose something, we limit it, we rob God of something, and we rob ourselves of something. It is what we have in God which partakes of the universal, the spiritual, the heavenly, the eternal elements of God, and goes through to God's full end. So that even that which may be our Isaac, given of God, has to be removed from the realm where we have hold of it, where we are manipulating, where the personal element touches it. It has to go outside of that realm to where it is of God, and only of God, if it is going to reach God's end.
So the Lord put Isaac into a realm where even Abraham could not hold him. It might be quite a natural thing with nothing evil about it, nothing sinful, nothing wrong from one standpoint, but when you bring in God's great interests, then there has to be the outworking of an utterness of death to self, to what is personal, which might not be necessary in other lesser realms.
We pass from Abraham to Jacob. There the thing is so obvious that we hardly need to stay with it. If ever a man was governed by the personal interest and element, it was Jacob. From the first you see him scheming for himself in connection with the birthright. It was personal possessiveness, personal advantage, personal position. With Laban, all his trickery was to gain personal ends, personal advantages. And then when he left Laban, on the way he was still thinking in the realm of personal gain. God met him at Jabbok and that night God touched the symbol of his strength, the sinew of his thigh, and withered it, and from that night onwards Jacob never walked without a staff. When he came to the end of his life and blessed his sons, he did so leaning upon the top of his staff. Right to the end of his life there was the symbol of his own weakness and his dependence upon something outside of himself. God touched the self-strength of Jacob, so that it might be placed on record: "I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." God is never the God of the man of self-strength, self-sufficiency, self-advantage, and self-strength. He is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who emptied Himself.
From Jacob you go to Joseph, one of the most sublime types of Christ, and you remember how Joseph comes into the picture. He had a dream, one little dream. There are the sheaves all bowing down to his sheaf. Yes, the very heavenly bodies are bowing down to him. Everything is bowing to young Joseph. Well, he is a young man, and young men are allowed to have dreams, and young men's dreams somehow are coloured with themselves being in the place of advantage, in some great position. And as a youth Joseph told his dreams to his brethren. It was altogether unwise to go and tell all his brethren, "You all bowed down to me!" Of course it put their backs up! But there was more in the dream than merely a dream. There was Divine intention, Divine purpose. Those dreams were coming true in a very wonderful way.
They did come true, and the brethren did eventually bow down and make obeisance to him. But look at all the things that happened between the dream and its fulfilment. He was dropped into a pit, he was taken out and sold for thirty pieces of silver, he was driven off into a foreign country, he was flung into the dungeon and the iron entered into his bones, and the Word of the Lord tried him. He was emptied of the self element, and when eventually the brethren did bow down to him, there was no gloating over it, no saying, "Ah, I knew it was coming to this, they are in my power now, they did not believe me then, but here it is!" No! He could not refrain himself from weeping. Here is a man who is the big man, and the big man is always the man who is emptied of self. God saw to that.
God never brings a man to His Divine end until he has been emptied of the personal element.
From Joseph we pass to Moses. Note how Moses comes into the picture. We are told that Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians. He was brought up in Pharaoh's house. He was a great man, we are told, after this world. And in some way he came to know that God had a special purpose in his life, that it was he who was to redeem His people. And then, in the greatness of this world, its position, its advantages, he came forward to put his Divine vocation into operation. We know what he did, and we know the result: seeking in self-strength, self-sufficiency to do God's work, disaster overtook him. The immediate issue was the wilderness, and the wilderness for forty years.
At the end of the forty years, the commission: direct, definite, conclusive! But how? God illustrated for Moses once and for all how a man fulfils a heavenly vocation in the bush that did not burn, a common bush of the desert, nothing in itself, no pride of its own, and yet in that which in itself is nothing, there is a power which is of God, and the common bush, which in ordinary circumstances would perish and die and be destroyed, goes on and on in the power of an enduring life, because God is in it. "We have this treasure in vessels of fragile clay that the exceeding greatness of the power may be of God and not of ourselves." That is the principle. The bush was Moses, and the power, the fire, was God. That was why Moses went through. On that basis the commission comes. Moses is self emptied; "I cannot speak!" A different Moses from forty years earlier. The personal side of things has been well dealt with, and now God says: "I am!" and, in effect, "I can!"
We pass from Moses to David. We have not much to say of the emptying of David, but the emptiness of David is one of the beautiful things in his life. There were his brethren, and Samuel was somewhat impressed with the important bearing and appearance of the brethren of David, and when he looked upon the fine stature of Eliab, David's elder brother, he said: "Surely the Lord's anointed is before Him", and the Lord said: "Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees... the Lord looks at the heart" (1 Sam. 16:7). Then the brethren had to pass by, and there was no indication from the Lord to anoint any one of them. Then you know that the one who was reckoned as an outsider, so far as this world's considerations were concerned, was brought in, and the Lord said; "Arise, anoint him; for this is he."
You notice through David's life there is that beautiful selflessness. When he came to the preparation for the building of the temple, and men of power and influence, even kings, were sending him material for the temple, David said: "Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my house..." (2 Sam. 7:18). The Lord said to David: "I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, to be ruler over My people Israel" (2 Sam. 7:8). The Lord reminded him of his humble origin, and because of this absence of the personal element in David's life, the Lord was able to say that he was a man after His own heart, who would do all His pleasure.
We take a swift movement from David to Paul, and see the outworking of the thing in a man who, to begin with, was full of self, self-strength, self-purpose, self-importance, self-sufficiency, self-assertiveness. He was apprehended of Christ and poured out in the dust, until he would say: "We have this treasure in earthen vessels", "when I am weak then am I strong", "I glory in infirmities... that the power of Christ may rest upon me."
To gather up all that Paul said which indicated the absence of self would take a long time. He was a man mightily emptied out, and therefore mightily filled of God.
We have left out many, such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, and others, but we have said enough to see that it is the putting away of the self, or the personal element, which becomes basic to God's great purpose, and comes very closely in relation to the matter of fellowship. We know so well that the things which destroy fellowship, or make fellowship impossible, or at best limit fellowship, are always personal elements. If it is "me" and "mine", if there is some secret hidden concern for our own place, our own work, anything that is our own, it will get in the way of the Holy Spirit, it will weaken relationships, it will limit the fulness of Christ.
This is all a very strong appeal to us to be constantly before the Lord, in order that He may have the fullest possible end in us, that if there is a personal element in us it shall be disclosed, it shall not work in secret, but the Lord will bring it out and that we shall have grace to bring that to the place where the slaying is. "He emptied Himself." The Lord give us grace in His presence to be emptied, so that we may be filled.
"Therefore if there is... any fellowship of the Spirit... make my joy complete... being of the same mind, maintaining the same love".