Pursuing The More Excellent Way
We are very much aware how helpless we are to present the Truth concerning the Love of God in such clarity and purity that God's people will be challenged to pursue this More Excellent Way. How can we possibly describe the depths of God's Love in words that we learned in school? We are limited to 26 letters of the English Alphabet, and no matter how well we can frame words together, from those 26 letters -- we know they are totally inadequate to impart the Truth into the lives of others. Paul knew this sense of inadequacy, and knew that the only way he could communicate the Truth of God to others was not by words of eloquence going forth by the wisdom of man, but by speaking forth "words -- which the Holy Ghost teacheth" from the heart of God (1 Cor:2:13).
But we believe, and therefore we must speak, and may God give grace to speak from His own heart.
"But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery (a divine secret), even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory. But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him. But God hath revealed them unto us by His Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God" (1 Cor 2:7-10).
There seems to be very little vision in the Church for "the More Excellent Way" that the apostle Paul held out to the Church at Corinth. Is it because we have a measure of the love of God within us, and we rejoice in that -- and then set it aside for the pursuit of gifts, and blessings, and mighty works of faith and power? We do not recognize that God's desire is to take us further, and higher, and deeper into realms of Love that we know little about as yet. He gives us spiritual gifts, to edify us and build us up in Christ; and these are very important in our walk with God. But He wants us to anticipate the day when we will walk in the More Excellent Way of Perfect Love.
The Spirit gave clear guidance to Abraham's trusted servant, and the camels were loaded down with very precious gifts for Isaac's bride. She must have treasured these very highly. But to Rebekah, they were as nothing compared to her hope of being married to Isaac, and becoming one with him. And when she saw him in the field, she left her gifts behind with the servant and the camels, and ran to meet him. She veiled herself in reverence, and then became his bride, and saw him face to face. No doubt she appreciated all those gifts, but we hear no more about them after she had seen her Isaac. In perfect love, we see our Lord "face to face." "Now abideth faith, hope, Love, these three; but the greatest of these is Love" (1 Cor 13:13).
When Paul wrote to the Corinthians, he wrote two whole chapters talking about gifts and ministries, and how important these were to the Church. Then sandwiched in between these, he wrote this beautiful chapter about the preeminence of the Love of God above any of the gifts of the Spirit. He gave us this very clear admonition: "And yet show I unto you a more excellent way" (1 Cor 12:31), followed by this wise counsel: "Follow after charity (love), and desire spiritual gifts" (1 Cor 14:1). He made it very clear that our ultimate pursuit is to walk in The More Excellent Way, with the help of spiritual gifts.
The best Highway you can find, in which to minister the truth of God, is the More Excellent Highway of Love. It is a highway that far excels the pathways of knowledge, and faith, and miracle working power, and prophetic utterances, and so forth.
The Lord calls us Back to First Love
We had better consider very seriously how important Love really is in the sight of God. The Lord dictated a letter to John for the Church at Ephesus. This Church had many good qualities and a good reputation. They had survived well, for they had received good apostolic teaching and doctrine, under the apostle Paul, and others. "I know thy works, and thy labour" Jesus said. So they must have been diligent in working for God. In all of this they exercised patience in times of trial. They would not tolerate any evil workers in their midst. They had keen discernment to recognize the false apostle, who no doubt had visited their fellowship in Ephesus, and ministered to them, but they discerned a wrong spirit, and found them to be liars, and rejected them. Then the Lord emphasized how the saints at Ephesus had carried heavy burdens, and endured it all with patience, and fainted not.
We would be inclined to give the Church at Ephesus a 95% mark. But in spite of all their good works, and their stalwart stand for truth, and the wonderful teaching they had received -- the Lord was not about to put His stamp of approval on this very active, very energetic, very well-disciplined Church. And why not? Because of this one area in which they had failed, and of which they were not aware: " Thou hast left thy first love." And it was for this very tragic reason that Jesus warned them that if they did not repent, He would "remove their lampstand." He would take away the little light they had, if they refused to repent. The Church at Ephesus would cease to be the Light that it was when it started. This would mean they would no longer be a vital witness in Ephesus, of the living Christ (see Rev 2:1-7).
We can only wonder how many thousands of churches there are throughout the land, that no longer send forth the Light of Jesus to the people in their community. The Lampstand has been removed and they know it not. The money is still coming in for their many good works. One excellent teacher after another may visit their Church, and teach the people. Prophetic utterances are quite common. The crowds have increased in number, and they are planning to build a bigger tabernacle. But the Light of God is no longer there, and somehow they have become accustomed to the darkness.
In view of what Jesus and the apostles said about Love, why do we not give this matter of following after Love our highest priority -- in our lives, or in our gatherings, or in our Vision? We can only conclude that the reason is -- we do not see the beauty, the glory, the power and the excellence of this virtue as we should. It is because we do not know God well enough, for God is Love. If we knew Him better, we would certainly love Him and His people more than we do. If we do not fear God, and really know Him intimately, how can we honestly, and in any great measure, love His people who were made in His image?
Generally we care less about Love prevailing in our hearts, or in our assemblies, as long as we have gifted evangelists, and pastors, and teachers, and apostles and prophets coming our way with powerful messages for the people. I am certainly not criticizing any group of people in the Church, as if I have arrived. I am but one member of the body of Christ, like the others -- each of us with a distinct calling. But I do recognize the great need we have for those winds of Heaven to blow upon us, and His holy Presence to come into our midst, and reveal Himself to us in our weakness and helplessness. We cannot have more Love through the exercise of any kind of Law. But certainly we ought to recognize how poverty stricken we really are, to make any real impact on the world about us. We need to be consumed with the Love of Jesus, and earnestly looking to Him for this mighty baptism of Fire, which alone can kindle the Flame of Love in our hearts, for God, and for the world about us.
But we have this confidence, that our great Mediator in the heavens, will continue to intercede for us, that the very Love of Jesus may be formed within His people. How bankrupt we really are in spiritual worth! I want to declare bankruptcy for myself, with the hope that the Lord of the Church might come to us, and put that hunger and desire in His people, to seek Him earnestly for the true riches. How can we read First Corinthians Thirteen, and fail to see how needy we really are! Let us go through it once more.
The Virtues of the Love of God
We may speak with fluency the languages of men or of angels, but without Love -- it is but a "tinkling cymbal."
We might be prophets of the highest order, displaying great knowledge, and unraveling great mysteries, but without Love, we are nothing.
We might come to a place of great faith, faith of such dimensions that we might speak to a mountain and cast it into one of our lakes. But we are nothing, without Love.
We might have great riches, and give it all to the poor. Surely that would be a sign of great love. But in God's mind He may see it as a selfish thing, as the benefactor looks for popularity with the people, and yet may have no real love.
Love is long-suffering, and kind;
Does not envy what another person has, or is;
Love does not lift himself up in pride,
Does not get puffed up with thoughts of greatness, because of his gifts or eloquence, or power.
Love does not engage in foolish, unseemly actions.
Love is not self-seeking, but cares for others, as for himself.
Does not get angry and provoked, when someone challenges him.
Love thinks no evil. He is careful not to pass judgment on a situation that he may know little about; or on someone when he hears an evil report, which may be but an idle tale.
Love rejoices in words of truth, rather than listening to tale-bearers or jokes, or comedy.
Love will carry the load, no matter how heavy it may seem to be, as long as we are assured we are in the yoke of Christ. Then we discover, in union with Christ, that His yoke is easy, and His burden light.
Love is not gullible, but has an ear for truth, and believes all things that are spoken forth in truth.
Love is full of hope, in times of trial and testing, and waits patiently for the Lord to deliver us out of trouble.
Love endures all things, knowing that 'all things work together for good to them that love God;' and knowing that the trial of his faith worketh patience, which is precious in the sight of God.
Then the apostle puts Love on the scales, along with faith, and prophecy, and tongues, and miracles -- all these wonderful gifts of the Spirit. And how do any of these gifts measure up with Love? They all fall far short, when placed on the scales of Heaven.
Love Never Fails. All else may fail, but Love never fails! Prophecies will fail! Tongues will cease! Knowledge will pass away! Healings will fail! Miracles may be rare in the Church! But Love, the Love of God in His people and for His people, and for the world -- will outlast them all!
And yet men will continue to exalt miracles, works of power, tongues, and prophecy, and put LOVE on the back burner. We hope it's there when we need it, but somehow we survive quite well without too much of it.
Apprehending the Same Love that was in Jesus
I know we have all read these things many times, for it is there in the Word of God. And 1 Corinthians 13 is the favourite chapter in the Bible for many of us. But it seems that we just read it and let it slip by, because we know we will only scratch the surface of it anyway, as long as we walk on Planet Earth.
God wants us to know that Love is the most powerful force on earth or in Heaven, and that it is part of the New Covenant that our Mediator in the heavens is mediating on our behalf. As we read these things and meditate upon them, may we no longer read it as something impossible for attainment, but something God has provided for His people, when gift and ministry and powerful manifestations have accomplished their purpose and fade away. Let us read about the Love of God often, and meditate upon it, until it becomes a clear Vision of what God has designed for His people. And as we do, let us be assured that it is not by any degree of carnal striving that we will come into the realm of God's holy Love.
Do we doubt that God really has Perfect Love in mind for His people? Then let us turn to John 17:26, the last verse of this awesome prayer of Jesus, just before His passion, and His glorification:
"I have declared unto them Thy Name, and will declare it: that the Love wherewith Thou hast loved Me may be in them, and I in them."
The same Love that the Father bestowed upon Jesus, to be bestowed upon us? That's how Jesus prayed! And that's all part of the New Covenant. And our Lord Jesus is the glorified Mediator of that Covenant, having received His mandate from the Father, to minister the glory of the New Covenant to His people in the earth.
Please let us understand that there is no manner of good intentions we can form, to make the New Covenant work. But the resources of the New Covenant are infused into our lives, as our Mediator presents us before the Father, and prays: 'Father, let the desire of Thy heart for Thy people be declared in the earth with such anointing and grace and power, that they will walk in the same Love that I walked in, when I was with them in the earth.'
It was really true when He said to His disciples, "It is expedient for you that I go away" (Jn 16:7). It was to our advantage that our Lord did not remain here on the earth, as His disciples had hoped. Here on earth His ministry was confined to those areas that He was able to visit, as a Man walking in human form.
But now in Glory He is universalized by reason of the fact that He can minister from the heart and mind of the Father, to His people wherever they may be scattered on the face of the earth. For He "ascended up far above all heavens, that He might fill all things" (Eph 4:10).
For we Know in Part, and Prophesy in Part
This should disarm any of us who think we know a lot. If we truly recognized that our knowledge is very limited, and falls short of real clarity and mature understanding, we would be less likely to argue about deep mysteries, thinking we have greater knowledge than our brother. Even if we do, it is still just in part, just in small measure.
"And if any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know" (1 Cor 8:2). When we know it all, or perhaps are talking to someone else who knows it all -- may we find grace to put our hands over our mouths. Especially when we read a statement like this from the great apostle Paul!
We know nothing yet, as we ought to know. "But if any man love God, the same is known of Him" (vs 3). He is not really saying that we need more knowledge. He is saying rather, that what we know falls short of the picture as it really is. We need a greater understanding and clarity of the knowledge we now have. But until we come to the fulness of Love, our knowledge of spiritual things will remain very, very minimal. God has designed it that way, or pride would destroy us.
Let's just take a quick look at the wisdom and knowledge of men in this age. They have actually manufactured instruments of destruction so awesome, that they could now obliterate all life on Planet Earth, and perhaps would do so if God would let them! What a tremendous scientific achievement! And now they fear that some rogue nation might ignite the spark that would bring about a nuclear holocaust of this sort, on this planet. But if God lets it happen in measure, we can be assured that there will be a people in the earth, immune to it all, as they abide in the Love of Jesus!
But in what way does Love give us knowledge that "we ought to know?" We will only discover that, as we come more and more into those realms of God's abounding Love. The Lord wants us to eat more and more of the Tree of Life, rather than of the Tree of Knowledge. If the man who loves God, is known of Him, it is evident, is it not, that to be known of Him must be a higher attainment, than to come to more knowledge.
With our natural mind not yet fully renewed by His Spirit, and with spiritual gifts that only function in part, we must acknowledge that many mysteries will remain beyond our understanding until "that which is perfect is come." And let us not think we must wait for Heaven to come to that. Jesus came down to earth to manifest Perfect Love in this world of sin and pain and misery, for this is where it is needed. And when He went away He made provision by His indwelling Spirit, for His people to walk as He walked when He was here. Perfect Love already fills the courts of Heaven! It's right here in this sin-sick, sin-weary Earth, that God will have for Himself a people, endued with the same Love that was in Jesus. Heaven is full of it now, and doesn't need any more. But Planet Earth is in great need of the same Love that was in Jesus, and that is why Jesus went back to the Father. It was not in God's plan that He would stay here very long. Just long enough to accomplish Redemption for His people, and nurture them in His ways; and then become the Seed that would "fall into the ground and die." And then in His resurrection and ascension glory, and His great mediatorial work in the heavens, to bring forth a people in the earth like Jesus!
I am the Vine . . . Ye are the Branches
There is a fulness yet to come, when the beautiful blossoms of Faith and Hope fade away to make way for the fruit of God's Love. Now Jesus is that True Vine, is He not? And we are the branches, are we not? Then does it seem incredible to us, that the very fruit of Jesus would unfold on the Branches of this Good Vine? The Vine that the Good Gardener planted in His Garden?
"I am the True Vine, and My Father is the Husbandman . . ."
"I am the Vine, ye are the Branches: He that abideth in Me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without Me ye can do nothing" (Jn 15: 1,5).
Dare we believe that our Father is the Good Gardener? Dare we believe that Jesus is the True Vine? Then, dare we believe that we are the Branches on the True Vine? and that as we abide in Him and He in us, we will bring forth Much fruit, Good Fruit, Perfect Fruit? I must believe it. And it is easier to believe it when we know it will happen because we are abiding in Him and He in us, and that without Him (apart from Him) we can do nothing.
Surely, the Fruit must be The same Love that was in Jesus. The same Joy. The same Peace. The same Longsuffering. The same Gentleness. The same Goodness. The same Faith. The same Meekness. The same Temperance (Discipline). The same "Fruit of the Spirit" that Paul talks about in Galatians 5:22,23. Let me assure you, beloved, that if we abide in the Vine, and He in us, it would be impossible for us to bring forth any fruit that does not compare in quality to the beautiful life of Jesus. He went to Heaven to become our Mediator and Intercessor, that He might perpetuate in the earth, Good Fruit like Himself (see Jn 12:24).
Away with the thought that God is going to manifest His sons with dictatorial power, who with sheer power and might will dethrone kings and rule in their stead! God's Kingdom is a Kingdom of Love and Truth. And when Pilate demanded of Jesus, "Art Thou a King?" the Lord seemed to hesitate a bit, because He knew what Pilate's concept of a kingdom was all about. But His answer was clear: "Thou sayest that I am a King. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the Truth" (Jn 18:37). With that clear statement of Jesus, Pilate was convinced that Jesus had no aspirations of taking over the Kingdom of Caesar.
From Faith, and Hope, to Love
In 1 Corinthians 13, the apostle likens Faith and Hope to the attributes of children. He reminds us that as little children grow older, they "put away childish things." He was not in any way belittling the necessity of those things that are highly esteemed by a child. Rather he was emphasizing that as one grows to maturity, the things that were uppermost in a child's mind, give way to greater things, more important pursuits, as adults. He is clearly telling us that these gifts and ministries that we esteem so highly, are put away when we come to maturity, "unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ" (Eph 4:13).
Jesus spoke of three phases of growth: "First the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear" (Mark 4:28). No farmer despises the blade, or the ear. He rejoices to see it, and hopes for the rain and sunshine to bring forth "the full corn in the ear." In the same way Paul speaks of three phases of maturity in God's people: "And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity (Love)" (1 Cor 13:13).
A gardener has no problem with that process. Rather he recognizes he will have a crop failure if the corn in the ear does not come to fulness. But when it is you and I pursuing a walk with the Lord, with the hope of coming to full maturity in Christ, most Christians have a real problem.
Knowing, as We are Known
"For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known" (1 Cor 13: 12). Evidently this is a "face to face" relationship of Love, which is higher than any degree of knowledge we might attain to. For knowledge puffs up, but love builds up (see 1 Cor 8:1). A couple of ounces of popcorn may produce a quart when it is puffed up. But it will not weigh any more. So the little knowledge we have seems great when it explodes, and the man who displays what he knows might himself become puffed up with pride -- and explode.
Now what does it really mean, to be known of Him? When God says "I know you" He is speaking of His pleasure and delight and His loving watchcare over you, just as He denies He found anything praiseworthy in the hypocrite on Judgment Day, and says, "I never knew you!" (Matt 7:23). He said of Abraham, the man He loved, "For I know him"; (Gen 18:19). And of Israel, "You only have I known of all the families of the earth" (Amos 3:2). It is an attribute in God that brings about a loving relationship with the one He knows.
And so to be known of Him is something to be desired -- far more than having a lot of knowledge about Him.
How then, do we come into such a loving relationship with the God who redeemed us? We love Him more, and He loves us more. It's not just a case of, I feel I love God. Feelings like that can change quite easily. How can I be assured that I really do love God? This is the answer I felt the Lord gave me one time when I was trying to check out how much I loved Him. I found very often that my feelings would deceive me. Then I read these words:
"He that hath My commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth Me" (Jn 14:21). Let this encourage us all. Just do what He tells you to do. Walk in obedience before Him. We are not talking about the commandments of Moses, but the commandments of Jesus.
If we love God, we are known of Him. When He knows us, He searches us out in a way that reveals our sins and failures, and brings us to repentance. God searched out the heart of David, and knew David with an intimacy that was very deep and far reaching.
"O LORD, Thou hast searched me, and known me" (Ps 139:1). I will not quote the rest of it, but I will put the substance of it in my own words:
God was there when David sat down to rest and meditate, and when he awakened from sleep, and rose up to go about his work.
He was there as David pondered what he would do next. And even before the thought was in David's heart, he knew that God knew all about it. This may have caused some fear in David, but it also gave him a lot of comfort in knowing that God was really concerned about him, and wanted him to walk in the right way.
He was there when David would travel about, and would follow David's tracks. He would put a circle around him, as a protective hedge.
God would even go before him and lay His hand upon him. Sometimes it was a corrective hand, which David discovered was a loving hand.
David knew that God knew more about him, than David knew about himself.
No matter what he did, or where he went, God was acquainted with all his ways. Such knowledge of him by the Most High God, caused David to love Him all the more, and he would ask God to search him out still further.
"Search me, O God, and know my heart:
Try me, and know my thoughts:
And see if there be any wicked way in me,
And lead me in the way everlasting."
David was very much aware of God's searching eyes on his life. Certainly God knows all about us, but we do not know our own hearts, until He searches us out. And He is faithful to do that, as we seek to walk in His ways, and come to know Him better, and love Him more. Only as God searches our hearts do we "know as we are known."
The deception of choosing our own way and making a name for ourselves in life is revealed to us, because true love for Him brings the hidden things of darkness to light, and we see Him "face to face."
O that we might love God, and be known of Him! For this is how our God is preparing us to be a habitation for Himself:
"If a man love Me, he will keep My words:
And my Father will love him,
And We will come unto him,
And make our abode with him."
The Ultimate Intention of Gift and Ministry
We know that God has done a great work, even in this past century, in the realm of Gift and Ministry. And we are very much aware of the necessity of these gifts for the edifying of the body of Christ. But as we have sought to point out, it was never God's intention that we should somehow come to the conclusion that these gifts are God's total answer for the ministration of the Gospel of the Kingdom in the earth. God's intention is rather this, that by the functioning of these gifts in the body of Christ, His people will pursue the objective of Perfect Love in the body, even as we teach, or prophesy, or exhort, or lay foundations of truth in the Church. The ultimate desire of God is clearly stated here in Paul's letter to the Ephesians, as it was in his letter to the Corinthians.
God gave these ministries to the Church for our edification and strengthening and encouragement - Till...
"Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a Perfect Man." Notice, it says "TILL we all come."
I digress here for a moment to make a few comments on this word "perfect." Many are quick to point out that the word means coming to a state of maturity in Christ; and this is true. It is a state of full growth in stature, if we speak of humans. Or ripeness, like wheat in the field, or like apples in an orchard -- if we speak of a farm, or an orchard. In other words: coming to that place of completion. The seed was planted, and the plant was watered, and after the sunshine and rain and the tender care of the gardener, there is the perfection of the fruit on the vine, or of the grain in the kernel. The gardener looks for the highest standard of maturity in harvest time. If it is wheat, he buys the best seed, because He wants the best harvest. Likewise if it's apples: the orchard keeper has done his best to do the right kind of grafting, and pruning, and fertilizing, and watering, because He wants the very best fruit.
So I have no objection when people make the remark: "Perfection simply means, coming to maturity." But I do object, when they assume or teach that maturity means like my godly father, or mother, or some godly minister that we know in the Church.
Now in this passage I quoted from Ephesians, it is very clearly defined what the apostle means by a "perfect man," a mature man in Christ.
Let me complete the verse I quoted above: "unto a Perfect Man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ" (Eph 4:13). We cannot read too far into the Gospels without knowing that the Son of God was holy and undefiled, the One of whom the Father testified on more than one occasion: "This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased." This is "the measure of the stature" that God has planned for His "many brethren." And why should it be so difficult to believe this, if indeed we believe that He Himself was the "corn of wheat" that was planted in the earth? Why, then, is it difficult to believe that God's intention is that this Man would be "the Firstborn among many brethren:" many brethren after the kind and the nature of the Seed that was planted? He loved His Son so much, that He desired to have many, many other sons like Him. Therefore his predestined plan for Christ's younger brothers was that they would "be conformed to the image of His Son" (see Rom 8:29).
God stated His intention as simply as I have quoted. But the cost of God's process in bringing forth these brothers of Christ, was awesome in the sufferings of the Elder Brother that redeemed them. For it was His own "precious blood" that became the price that He paid to redeem us, and to conform us to His own image and likeness. It was blood so holy and pure, that by the "sprinkling of the blood" of Jesus on those sinful brothers and sisters, they become as righteous as He is righteous, as holy as he is holy. That's how pure and holy His blood was, and that's how pure and holy we become, when we are cleansed by the blood of Jesus, and "with the washing of water by the Word" (Eph 5:26).
We are not boasting we have arrived. Nor will there be any boasting when we have arrived. Boasting is entirely excluded, except as we boast in our Elder Brother that redeemed us. Our boasting is only in the Lord Jesus, who sends His Word and Spirit into our hearts and minds -- His Spirit that is mingled with the pure and holy blood of Jesus.
Gift and Ministry - Swallowed up in Love
May we all be faithful to minister out from the heart of God, with whatever gift or ministry God has given us -- "TILL" we come to the More Excellent Way. I must emphasize that ministry has adequately fulfilled its purpose, when we have "all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a Perfect Man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ" (Eph 4:13).
Now if it is true that Gift and Ministry have an appointed end for their season of ministration, let us not glory in powerful ministries, nor seek such a ministry for ourselves. When the apostle admonishes us to "desire spiritual gifts" it is in this context: "Follow After Love." For the gifts are of a temporary nature, whereas Love is eternal. We desire spiritual gifts for our present need, yet we are to understand that these gifts and ministries will one day be swallowed up in Love, if we truly follow in the path of God's intention.
When Moses and Elijah had fulfilled their ministry, not only in their generation, but up there on the Mount of Transfiguration, suddenly they fade out of sight, as they are enveloped by the Cloud of Glory, and the disciples of Christ see them no more. Henceforth the command from Heaven is very clear and sufficient and conclusive:
"This is My beloved Son -- Hear ye Him" (Matt 17:5).
So it will be with the apostolic and prophetic order. There is still much ministration of Gift and Ministry to take place till the Body of Christ is "fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part." But when the body of Christ comes to this state of completion, this glorious body has life in itself, and will continue to 'edify itself in Love' (see Eph 4:16). Each member will always be very distinct in itself, yet not in any way deformed as it is now: with one very long ear, or one large eye, or one leg much longer than the other. And all this is because we do not have such a working of Love in the body, that each member has loving care, one for the other. Somewhere in the transition from apostolic and prophetic ministry -- to the stature of Christ in His people, there must come a fading away of special ministries in the Cloud of God's Glory, that all God's disciples will see and hear Jesus only!
The highest form of a ministry in Love will come out of this. I am not denying there is some of this now in the earth -- especially in countries where the Church is subject to much persecution. I read of ministrations of Love today that are equal to anything we read about in the story of the martyrs. But I fear in the Church here in the West, and in many other affluent nations, we see a predominance of powerful and eloquent ministries, with very little expression of true Love in the body of Christ.
The Manifestation of the Sons of God
The Lord Jesus was revealed in the earth as the Son of God, shining forth the Light of God, out from the heart of the Father. Whenever the Voice spoke from Heaven relative to the Lord Jesus, it was about the Beloved Son. Not about a Messianic Ministry. Not about a very gifted Man of God manifesting the gifts of the Spirit. Not about a powerful and mighty King. It was a ministration of the Love and Mercy of the Son of God, who walked in total union with a compassionate Father, and manifested the glory of the Father.
God will yet manifest other sons in the earth, as the Mediator of the New Covenant ministers from His throne in the heavens. A groaning creation waits for that! For "the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the Sons of God" (Rom 8:19). Surely this has nothing to do with great and powerful men and women of God, going through the earth with dictatorial powers, to bring all things into subjection to themselves. What will they be like, then? And what will they do? As we read about the Life of Jesus, and His great manifestation in the earth, we have discovered that He had no agenda but one; and that was, "Lo I come to do Thy will O God." The Love of the Father as manifested in Jesus will be the pattern of His "many brethren." Jesus prayed that it would be that way. "I have declared unto them Thy Name, and will declare it: that the Love wherewith Thou hast loved Me may be in them, and I in them" (Jn 17:26). They will minister like the Lamb, and suffer like the Lamb, and overcome like the Lamb.
"And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death" (Rev 12:11).
From Faith - Seven Steps Upward to Love
We must have God's love in every step we climb on the Stairway of Faith. But too often we are inclined to climb a step or two, and think we are at the top. We settle for Iron, when God wants to give us Silver. We settle for Brass, when God wants to give us Gold (Isa 60:17). But as it is with the teachings of Jesus, and of His servant Paul -- so now we turn to Peter for more confirmation. He reminds us of God's "exceeding great and precious promises." Then he is quick to remind us that the very ultimate of His promises is "that by these ye might be partakers of the Divine Nature" (see 2 Pet 1:3,4). Faith is the sure foundation, but God wants us to climb the seven steps upward and higher, to realms of Love.
These steps are in ascending order, as he talks about the qualities of grace that God desires to bring forth in His people who are born anew, and built upon the solid rock of faith.
"And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith ..." God wants His people to go beyond faith, and come to Perfect Love. But that is on the last and seventh step upward. We need Love on every step we climb, but there is an ultimate quality of Love that God would bring us into. So let us begin climbing. Add to your faith --
Virtue. True faith will bring a change in lives. The word "virtue" is understandable enough as it is. Virtue follows immediately after faith. One is changed from a degrading lifestyle to thoughts of God, and praiseworthy actions. From worldly things to heavenly. From material things to spiritual. He loves the Lord, and wants to know Him better. He wants to live pleasing to God. He wants to live a virtuous life before God.
Knowledge. We need the 'knowledge of God' to give us direction in God's ways. To give us hope, and vision. We learn of God's ways, as we seek to walk with Him. We may learn a lot from godly teachers, but a true teacher, will encourage one who is new in the faith, to read the Word, and get to know Truth for himself, as he allows the Word of Truth to penetrate his heart and mind. A young Muslim boy in Africa, recently converted to Christ, wrote me: "Please write and tell me all you know about God!" I did my best to answer his letter. Certainly the desire to get more knowledge about God is good, and it is all part of the process of coming to maturity in Christ. Gifts may come quickly and easily. But climbing the Ladder of Faith takes time, and diligence.
Temperance (or Discipline). Often the word is translated 'self-control.' But surely it must be a working of God in our heart, that causes us to learn obedience to His Word, and work discipline in our lives, as we yield ourselves to Him. We choose to live a disciplined life, as we obey God and do His will. Old habits ought to be laid aside, as we develop new habits and learn with God's help how to discipline our lives as followers of Jesus.
Patience. This is another word that we use lightly, as if it is just an unnecessary impediment in our desire to work for God. It's boring! but I guess I must wait it out! It causes me a lot of grief, but hopefully this nasty situation will improve! Scriptural patience does require faithfulness to "wait upon God" but it has a very positive meaning. It's not just waiting it out. We must do His will daily as we wait for a more meaningful expression in our lives of the will of God. We must remain at the job we don't like, and do our work faithfully, and stay at it until God gives us the green light to do something else. If we are in a disagreeable situation that we cannot change, let us hope in God, and learn to take suffering as a strengthening and purifying of our faith. Then we will come to the place where we recognize patience as a virtue in God's sight. For God would strengthen the faith we have, as He purges from our life things that are not pleasing in His sight.
Godliness. God's faithfulness to you in times of trial, will cause you to become more aware of God in your life. You think of Him, meditate more upon Him, seek to please Him more. You become less conscious about your plans, and more desirous of coming to know Him better, Today. For Today, as we spoke about earlier, is the only day you have, to do His will and to abide in His rest. As he helps us to do that, our thoughts are more heavenly, more Godward, than when we began to walk in this new way. I encourage you not to follow those sayings that give the advice: "Don't get too heavenly minded." For you will never be of any earthly good until your heart and mind are elevated to know God better, and to follow after Him more closely, and become acquainted with the realities of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Brotherly Kindness. As you climb this ladder, and become more and more godly and heavenly minded -- you have more concern for your brethren in the earth, and you want to help them where you can, and treat them as one of your brothers in the Family of God. There is a kinship with them that you do not find in the world about you -- and often may go beyond the kinship you have with natural relatives. You learn to enjoy true and meaningful fellowship with brethren of like heart and mind. And you do what you can to help them in their times of distress or anguish. You learn brotherly kindness even toward brothers who are unkind to you. But be patient --
Love. But be patient, because there is another realm that is still higher than the "love of the brethren." It is this realm of Love. I call it a realm, for there are vast areas in this old planet where sin abounds, and the hearts of men are full of hate and malice. And God is preparing sons and daughters who will go to them in their hate and malice, and bring to them the Love of Jesus. But you and I will never do it effectually until the same love that is in Jesus, dwells in our hearts. Don't stop anywhere on this ladder! You can climb it, if your eyes are fixed on God, who is at the top of the ladder (as Jacob discovered)! You can come into the Love of Jesus, if your heart longs for that. Because our Lord longs after you, and draws you. So it is not in your own strength but in His, that you will find you can "do all things through Christ which strengtheneth you" (see Phil 4:13). Even now He is in the heavens praying for you and for me, and revealing the glory of the Father to us in such a way "that the Love wherewith Thou hast loved Me may be in them, and I in them" (Jn 17:26). Don't you think that God will answer the prayers of our Lord Jesus, who is enthroned at His right hand in the heavens, interceding for us?
We will not spend more time at the Faith Ladder, except to mention two things that the apostle Peter emphasized: one very positive, and one very negative. And I quote from his words:
(1) "For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ."
(2) "But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins" (see 2 Pet 1:5-9).
So if our thought is: I've got Faith, and that's enough for me. Forget those far-out things â€“ the apostle Peter says we are "blind, and cannot see afar off, and have forgotten that we have been purged from our old sins." Blind, or short-sighted, and one is not much better than the other.
No wonder our Lord is seen standing at the door of the Church at Laodicea, and telling them He loves them, but wants them to anoint their eyes with eyesalve that they might see. For with all their riches, and pomp, and affluence -- our Lord with those Seven Eyes, sees through it all, and declares them to be blind, or short-sighted.
But we are not to despair when we realize we are blind. Rather let us come to Him, and buy that healing ointment for our blindness, or for our short-sighted vision.
And how do we buy this healing ointment in our extreme poverty? We just bring what we have to Him: our filthy rags, our blindness, our faulty vision, our worthless paper money. And then He will give us in exchange: "Gold tried in the fire" that will make us rich with the true riches; and "white raiment" that we might be clothed upon with His righteousness; and "eyesalve" that we might see! (see Rev 3:18).
Jesus said of the Pharisees who insisted they could see: "If ye were blind, ye should have no sin: but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth" (Jn 9:41).
Each step we take up the Faith Ladder brings us closer and closer to Perfect Love. And each step we take will provide added grace for the next step we must take, as we pursue The More Excellent Way. God wants to take us higher, and we are blessed as we stand at the foot of the Mount, and have that urge and desire to scale its upmost heights, and to grow up into the stature of Christ.
The higher we climb, so does our Vision become more clear. Nor is this a selfish desire, for the closer we walk with the Lord Jesus, the more will we partake of His image and likeness. Only then do we lose our selfish desires, and experience the mercy and compassion and patience and longsuffering of our Lord Jesus.
The Love of Christ Which Passeth Knowledge
"That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the Love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God" (Eph 3:17-19).
When we grow into the stature of Christ, we are beyond the realms of knowledge. In the lower realm of gifts and ministries, we know very little, we see very little; "We know nothing yet as we ought to know." But there is another realm God would bring us into "which passeth Knowledge." This is the Love Realm, which is both broader and longer, and deeper and higher. We spoke a little about the ascending aspects of Love. But here in the passage we quoted, Paul takes us much further into the Breadth and Length and Depth and Height of God's Love. Now this is a realm that "passeth knowledge," so how could we possibly explain it? But we can talk about it because we know it is there for us to apprehend, in the highest heights and lowest depths of God. And though we cannot understand it, the apostle tells us that we are able to apprehend it, to lay hold upon it. The word in our version is comprehend, but it has the meaning to apprehend, or to lay hold upon it. It is a state that is beyond description by mortal tongue, yet a realm that God wants us to pursue until we are "filled with all the fulness of God."
The best we can do is to relate a few things from the Life of Jesus, that will illustrate how our Lord walked in those vast expanses of the Love of God.
We read how Jesus had compassion on the multitudes who had followed Him for three days, without having any food. The Love and compassion of Jesus was sufficient for any situation. A young lad with 5 loaves and 2 fishes surrendered them into His hands. Jesus broke the loaves and fishes in His hands, and blessed them, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples went through the crowds and gave every one in the crowd enough to satisfy their hunger. There were 5,000 men, besides women and children. But His love and compassion had no bounds, and every need was met. And they gathered up 12 baskets of bread and fish that were left over! Nobody could possibly understand such a thing.
On another occasion as He crossed over the sea with His disciples, a great storm arose, and the disciples feared they would go under. This Man, full of Love and Truth, slept in peace, while the storm raged around Him. None of the storms in life can disturb the peace of one that knows the breadth and length of God's Love. When the disciples in great fear awakened Him, He simply spoke to the winds and waves, "Peace be still!" And there was a great calm.
Another time He stepped out of the boat, as they landed at Gadara. Off in the distance there was a terrorist, that kept the inhabitants of Gadara in a state of constant fear. No chains could bind him. As soon as they thought they had conquered the man and had him bound with chains, he would break the chains and continue terrorizing the Gadarenes.
But one day Jesus traveled by boat to Gadara, and when He stepped off the boat this oppressed man saw Him, while he was a long distance away. And he ran to Jesus, and fell at His feet, and worshipped Him! A legion of devils had possessed the man, but the Love of God was stronger than them all, and God's Love compelled this terrorist to run toward Jesus and fall at His feet in worship!
We hear much of terrorism in this day and hour. But no terrorist, then or now, can continue in their acts of terrorism, when the Love of God comes on the scene, and replaces hate and malice and terror with the love and compassion of Jesus!
Another time, toward the end of His ministry, this Man of Love received a very urgent message from the beloved family who lived in Bethany. There was no time to spare. Come quickly, they said, Your good friend Lazarus is at the point of death. But One who is baptized with the Love of God is also full of wisdom and knowledge. He saw no need to panic, not even when death was threatening one of His beloved friends. Nor will one who is baptized in God's Love move away from God's will, to help the one he loves. On this occasion God would demonstrate to the loving sisters, Mary and Martha, the preeminence of the Love of God, even over death. He waited for God's time. And God's time was too late! By the time He got to Bethany, Lazarus had been dead and buried four days. His sisters who loved their brother, could not control their grief. Nor did they know that this Man who was the very expression of God's Love, had no fear of the power of death. Nor would God's purposes be defeated because of death. "Jesus wept" as He went to the tomb, for He loved Mary and Martha, and He was touched with their grief, and wept with them. He knew what He was doing, for He was walking in the breadth and length, and in this situation -- in the depth and height of God's Love. He just spoke three words, "Lazarus, come forth" and King Death released his prey into the hands of the Prince of Life.
O Lord, hasten the day when Thy great intercessory prayers for Thy people will come to pass, that we may live and move and minister in the same Love that was in Jesus!
The Gospel According to Paul
I am not denying we need to hear the simplicity of the Gospel of Christ. But we must know that the true Gospel is far-out -- in breadth and length, in depth and in height. It reaches far into the heavens, and far into the deep. How does Paul describe the Gospel that He preached? His mandate was in a threefold dimension:
(1) To preach among the Gentiles, the unsearchable riches of Christ.
(2) To make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God.
(3) God's intention being that "now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by (through) the Church the manifold wisdom of God" (see Eph 3:8-10).
Now this is just a brief summary of the simple Gospel of Christ according to the apostle Paul. This "glorious Church" is destined to be a wonderful display of the many-sided aspects of God's wisdom, not to men on the earth only, but to the unseen celestial hosts above. And why does God want the glorious Church to be known in heavenly places? Because the manifold wisdom of God is all intertwined with the wisdom of the Cross, that cruel instrument of torture on which Jesus died, and by which He overcame not only your sin and mine, but "having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it" (Col 2:15). Evil principalities in the heavenlies are terrified when the true Gospel penetrates their realms, because they know it was the Cross on which Jesus died, by which they were defeated.
And some think they can go to nations with a simple gospel, polluted with drama and musical entertainment, and turn their hearts to Christ. How blind can blindness get? The apostle Paul shook nations, because he not only preached this glorious Gospel of the Cross, which is the greatest expression of God's Love ever made known to men or to angels -- but he lived with it, and died for it! And he testified: "God forbid that I should glory, save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world" (Gal 6:14).
The Victory of the Cross
The Cross was, as one hymn portrays it, the emblem of suffering and shame. This is true. But it is also the greatest display of the Love of God that this earth has ever known. Jesus walked in the earth manifesting in all His mighty works, the love and compassion of the God who was manifest in Him. And when He died on the Cross, this display of the Love of God is known as the greatest expression of the Love of God ever revealed to men.
This Truth is now being assailed by some teachers, who would tell us that Jesus was defeated on the Cross, but triumphed later in His resurrection. His resurrection was certainly the solid proof to heavenly and earthly powers, that He had conquered over sin and death. But it was there on the Cross that He manifested His victory in a public display to both heavenly and earthly powers: "That through death He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the Devil" (Heb. 2:14). This was all part of the hidden wisdom of God, "which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory" (1 Cor 2:7,8).
It was also there that He revealed His judgment against the apostasy of temple worship. For at the same moment that He died, the veil of the temple was rent in two from the top to the bottom. And God Most High who had ordained the temple as a place of worship, and the altar as a place of sacrifice for the humble and contrite heart, had now given His Son as the Supreme Sacrifice for sin, putting an end to temple ritual and sacrifice, and offerings of bulls and goats, for ever. Never again would He give honour and respect and blessing to those who would approach Him with sacrifices of goats and lambs and pigeons and bullocks! His was the Supreme Sacrifice, the one that Abraham had mentioned when Isaac questioned him saying, "Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb?" And Abraham answered, "My son, God will provide Himself a lamb for a burnt offering" (Gen 22:7,8). Of course, God did provide a sacrifice for that occasion on Mount Moriah. When God saw the obedience of Abraham, with the knife in his hand, to offer up Isaac, the Angel of the Lord spoke from Heaven: "Lay not thine hand upon the lad -- now I know that thou fearest God" (Gen 22:12). Then Abraham looked around, and saw "a ram caught in a thicket by his horns" (vs 13). His horns of power resulted in his death. For God in His foreknowledge had ordained this ram as Abraham's burnt offering in the stead of Isaac his son.
We can't help but recognize that our Lord, the Supreme Burnt Offering was also "caught in a thicket," because of His horns of power. The real reason for priests and pharisees to condemn Jesus, was the power He manifested, which they saw as a threat to their priestly and political kingdom, which Jesus condemned. They knew Jesus had this awesome power and authority, and the resurrection of Lazarus was the final straw. There was a growing fear that if they did not do something about it, they would lose it all to the powers of Rome. So they called a council to deal with the situation.
"What do we?" they said, "For this man doeth many miracles. If we let him thus alone, all men will believe on him: and the Romans shall come and take away both our place and nation" (Jn 11:47,48).
And so our Lord was "caught in a thicket by His horns" -- in a thicket of religious animosity and hatred. And it was because the Son of God refused to use His power to bolster an apostate priesthood. But God had ordained this thicket for the true Sacrifice, that would annul the Law of Sin and Death. Even Caiaphas the High Priest who agreed to the death penalty for Jesus, did so by God's appointment. God put in the mouth of this apostate high priest a true prophetic word, concerning the death of Christ.
"And one of them, named Caiaphas, being the High Priest that same year, said unto them, ye know nothing at all, nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not. And this spake he not of himself, but being High Priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation; and not for that nation only, but that also he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad" (Jn 11:49-52). God in His infinite wisdom, sovereignly overshadowed the Supreme Sacrifice of the Lamb on Mount Calvary, as surely as He had overshadowed the sacrifice of the Ram on Mount Moriah.
What an affront it would be to God Most High who gave His only Son as the Sacrificial Lamb, to even suggest that He may yet in some millennial temple, ordain a repetition of the old sacrifices that could never take away sin! When God rent that veil asunder in the old Temple, He was clearly telling the people: The Glory has departed! Look behind the veil that is rent, and see for yourselves -- the Glory has departed!
But that Glory rested in full measure on another Temple, the one that Jesus spoke of when He said "Destroy this Temple, and in three days I will raise it up" (Jn 2:19).
The Hidden Wisdom . . . Revealed in the New Covenant
In this writing our desire is to emphasize God's Vision for Himself, and for His people. Often we are accused of spiritualizing the Old Testament, when we present a picture of something far higher than the letter of the Word seems to say. If God's people would simply receive the New Testament, as equally inspired as the Old, and accept the fact that God raised up apostles and prophets in the New Testament -- as equally inspired as the old -- they would understand that the Old Testament was written for a people who had a very limited understanding of spiritual things. The prophets spoke many things that could only be understood after Christ came -- by the spirit of wisdom and revelation. Following the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and His ascension to the Throne of Glory, He sent forth His Spirit to abide upon His people, and in them. It was "the promise of the Father," that the Lord Jesus commanded His disciples to wait for, as they returned to Jerusalem after His ascension. And by His Spirit abiding within, He has revealed through His apostles and prophets the mystery that was kept hidden from former generations.
According to Peter, we understand that the prophets themselves were puzzled about the things they wrote, and earnestly sought God as to what period of time their prophecies would come to pass. In answer to their prayers God gave them this very limited revelation of the glorious gospel they wrote about:
"Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; which things the angels desire to look into" (1 Pet 1:12).
Are we spiritualizing the Word of God? Not at all; the apostles and prophets of the New Testament have already done that for us. The prophets had a very limited understanding of what they were writing about, and now in the New Testament God has imparted the spirit of wisdom and revelation to give clarity and understanding of the many types and shadows of the Old Testament.
When we understand this, the Old Testament writings become New Testament truth to those who are taught of God. Even the angels of God try to peer into these things that concern the Gospel of Christ, because their understanding is limited also, and they "desire to look into these things."
Surely we must believe that the scribes who wrote the New Testament, were writing from the heart and mind of God. And that many of the mysteries hidden in the Old Testament, were revealed by the apostles and prophets of the New. Paul quotes from what Isaiah said in Chapter 64:4 -- unfolding what the prophet said, with a still further revelation of the Spirit:
"But as it is written, eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by His Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God" (1 Cor 2:9,10).
How greatly we need the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him!" (Eph 1:17,18).
Go To Chapter 6 - God's Encounter With Men
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