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I believe my theme is one that is not often dealt with. I’m not saying it’s never been dealt with but I say it’s not often dealt with. By comparison, it’s been neglected. That is, hearing from God, entering into the council of the Lord as a body, not just individuals.
First of all, perhaps I could point out to you that there is a council of the Lord. And we need to take the two words here counsel and council. Counsel which is advice, direction, plan. Council which is a meeting to take counsel together. The principle, I think, which is in scripture which I’ve heard enunciated by Charles Simpson amongst others, is that counsel proceeds out of council. They really are not two different words. By origin they come from one and the same root. I think it’s very important to see that counsel, right planning, proceeds out of council, meeting together to take counsel. The root implication of the word is that it proceeds out of plurality, out of collective deliberation and planning.
In Psalm 25:14 we have a scripture about the council of the Lord. The translation I’m using misses it, I’m taking the New International Version which is in many ways a good version. But, in this particular verse it misses it. The translation I have says:
“The Lord confides in those who fear him; he makes his covenant known to them.”
What does the NASB say? Somebody give me that.
“The secret of the Lord is for those who fear him; and he will make them know his covenant.”
More literally it says:
“The secret of the Lord is with or for those who fear him; and his covenant to cause them to know it.”
So, the secret of the Lord is with them and then his covenant is with them to bring them into a knowledge and understanding of it.
I think it’s important because the implication is that the covenant follows the secret. If the secret of the Lord is with those, then his covenant is with them and they will understand it. Now, the word that’s been translated “secret” in other passages is translated council. In a sense, it means the secret council of the Lord is for those who fear him and then his covenant becomes a reality to them. I think there’s a very important implication that until we enter into the secret council of the Lord we do not understand his covenant.
Covenant is one of the hardest things for the natural mind to understand. In fact, I think it really is only grasped by revelation. God gives his revelation not on the basis of seminary training or intellectual ability but on the basis of character. The basic character requirement is the fear of the Lord. The secret council of the Lord is available to those who fear him.
And following that comes the revelation of his covenant. The word covenant is becoming very popular now. More and more churches are being called covenant churches. I think that indicates a new emphasis of the Holy Spirit. But I am convinced that you can’t enter into that just by wanting to or just by thinking it’s a good ideal or just by seeing the need for it. So much is contained in the covenant of the Lord that he kind of locked it up and said, “You don’t have access to this until you meet my conditions.”
Now, there is a council of the Godhead: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. That’s the ultimate council of the universe. And out of that council proceeds the counsel that determines the course of history. I give you two examples where we have the veil lifted for a moment and we peep into the Godhead in council. The first is in Genesis 1:26.
“Then God said...”
The word is Elohimwhich is a plural word. I mean, it exists in the singular though it’s commonly used in the plural. In that word is contained, in a sense, the mystery of God who is one yet more than one. There is at least one place where it is translated plural.
“Then God said [Elohimsaid], Let us make man in our image [in our likeness], and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air...”
There’s a collective decision of the Godhead.
Then in Genesis 3:22:
“The Lord God said, The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat and live forever. So the Lord God banished him from the garden of Eden.”
There again it’s the Godhead in council.
Then another, just one other example, in Isaiah 6:8.
“Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”
And it’s interesting it moves from singular to plural there. Whom shall I send, who will go for us?
“And I said, Here am I, send me.”
By the revelation granted him, Isaiah was taken up to hear just a little fragment of a council of the Godhead. “Whom shall I send, who will go for us?”
So, there is a council of the Godhead, out of which proceeds the counsel that directs the universe. I think it’s important to see that council initially and eternally proceeds out of plurality. That’s the way it began, that’s basic. We’re really not in line with the full way of God’s working when we simply handle it individually. I mean, to speak only of the priesthood of the individual believer but not to speak about the council of the Godhead is really to put the cart before the horse. The council of the Godhead, plural, is primary. In fact, the priesthood of the individual believer should give him access to the council of the Godhead. If it doesn’t, it probably won’t accomplish the divine purpose.
Now, my purpose this morning is to give some suggestions on how collectively to hear the council of the Godhead, how to get in on what God is saying and doing. Let me say immediately the key is the Holy Spirit. He’s indispensable. There is no way to get around the Holy Spirit and hear the council of God.
Let’s turn, first of all, to John 16:12–15. Jesus is speaking to his disciples and, in a certain sense, he’s taking his farewell from them so far as their earthly relationship is concerned. He says:
“I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear.”
Would God we were all so wise and didn’t give people more than they could bear. I don’t know whether I’ve yet learned it but I know one thing, it took me years to learn not to give people more than they could take. I don’t say I’ve learned it but at least I’m aware of the problem.
“But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own [or of his own initiative or from himself]; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.”
Where will he hear it? The council of the Godhead. And because of that he can tell us what is yet to come because it’s the council of the Godhead that decides the course of history.
“He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.”
In this process Jesus is glorified. Now, the process is that the Holy Spirit takes what belongs to Jesus and makes it known to us. But, Jesus is always very careful in his attitude to the Father of submissiveness in giving priority to the Father. So, first of all he says what is mine, and then, in a sense, he says but it isn’t really mine, it’s the Father’s. I have nothing of my own independent of the Father but, on the other hand, everything that belongs to the Father belongs to me. That’s the total wealth of the Godhead. All that belongs to the Father and to the Son. But, the administrator of all of it is the Holy Spirit. If you want to get in on it you’ve got to be friendly with the Holy Spirit.
There’s a very beautiful historical parable which I’m sure is familiar to some of you, perhaps all of you. The story in Genesis 24 of Abraham sending his servant, his steward, back to Mesopotamia to find a bride for his son Isaac. And, of course, it’s historically a true story. It’s also a very beautiful and vivid narrative but it’s also a scriptural parable. The persons in the parable are very easy to identify. Abraham represents God the Father. Isaac the only son represents the Lord Jesus Christ. Rebekah the chosen bride represents the church. And we’re left with one other major character. The servant, the unnamed servant. That, I believe is the Holy Spirit’s self portrait. The beautiful thing is he doesn’t even name himself. That’s so typical of the Holy Spirit. He never attracts attention to himself. If you consider all that’s involved in that story, it’ll give you a most vivid picture of how the church totally depends on the Holy Spirit.
The agent that selected the bride was not the Son but the steward. And the moment that Rebekah made the right response that indicated she was the chosen bride, he opened up his treasures and began to bestow gifts upon her. He had ten camels with him. I can tell you, ten camels can carry a lot of gifts. He didn’t go without anything. The fact that Rebekah visibly adorned herself with the gifts was the evidence that she was the chosen bride.
To my way of thinking it is totally contrary to all logic that any church that rejects the gifts of the Holy Spirit could claim to be the bride. It’s absolutely contrary to all the basic principles of life.
Then, Rebekah made her decision in total reliance on the steward. She had never seen Abraham, she’d never seen Isaac, she’d never been where they lived. The only source of information she had about everything was the steward. The only way to get there was to do what? To follow the steward. If she had ever parted company from the steward, she wouldn’t have made it. She never saw the man she was to marry before she was already fully committed to him, had burned all her bridges and had left her entire past forever behind her.
Meditate on that and I think you’ll see it’s a reminder and a picture of how totally the church must be dependent on the Holy Spirit. There’s no other way we can know about God the Father and Jesus the Son. There’s no other way we can receive our inheritance. There’s no other way we can be marked out as the true church and there’s no other way we’ll ever make it to our destination. We’re totally dependent on the Holy Spirit. He is the exclusive administrator of the entire inheritance. That’s why some Christians who have it all in doctrine have so little in experience. They believe in the Father and the Son but they’re not really acquainted with the Holy Spirit. So, theoretically they have it. Experientially they often have very little because you cannot bypass or snub the Holy Spirit and get your inheritance.
Somebody said the greatest sin of the church in past centuries has been snubbing the Holy Spirit. We need to be very, very sensitive—all of us—how we deal with the Holy Spirit. In a sense, he’s the ultimate. Jesus said you can speak a word against the son of man and it’ll be forgiven you. But if you speak against the Holy Spirit there’s no way back. It’s a very, very solemn thought.
So, the Holy Spirit is the only channel of access to the council of the Godhead. He will hear in heaven and tell us on earth what he hears. There’s one other scripture that I’d like to add to that in 1Corinthians 2, beginning at verse 9 and reading through to the end of the chapter. Well, why don’t we begin at verse 6, why do ourselves out of a good thing!
“We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature...”
Again, what wisdom there is in only saying some things to people who are mature. I think most of us would recognize we’ve got ourselves into a lot of trouble sometimes by saying the right thing to the wrong people.
Let me say one more thing about Jesus in John 16 which I think is a very important pattern for those who are in any way committed to making disciples. Jesus said to the disciples with whom he had been continuously for the past three and a half years, “I’ve taken you as far as you can go now. Now I’m leaving you. The Holy Spirit will finish off the job.” I do believe that that’s a pattern. In other words, I believe we can take people so far and then we have to say the Holy Spirit will have to finish it. I see the modesty of Jesus. He said, “I can’t take you any further. You’re going to have to depend on the Holy Spirit.” I think we’ve got to come to the point where we trust the Holy Spirit. Jesus said, “I can’t finish it all. But, I have every confidence in the Holy Spirit, he’ll do it.” If we don’t trust the Holy Spirit we won’t succeed anyhow.
Now let’s look at these fantastic words here in 1Corinthians 2, beginning at verse 6.
“We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began.”
Being from a background of professional philosophy and particularly the philosophy of Plato, those words are very meaningful for me because when I read 1Corinthians I realize that when Paul speaks about the wisdom of this world—which he does frequently—he is primarily talking about philosophy and he primarily has in mind Greek philosophy—which I was immersed in for years. The word philosophy means literally the love of wisdom. A philosopher, by derivation, is a lover of wisdom. In my personal experience that’s why I became a philosopher, because I was looking for some kind of wisdom. I felt I tried the church and it didn’t have it so I didn’t want to bother with the church anymore, I wasn’t going to fight the church, I just wasn’t interested in the church. I thought to myself where can I turn? The obvious answer seemed to be philosophy. I became a philosopher because I was seeking wisdom. I could say I was in search of the secret wisdom. The very phrase “secret wisdom” challenges me, it excites me. It’s something I covet, in a certain sense. But I didn’t find it in philosophy. The moment I met Jesus, I mean, instantly I knew that’s where it was. I ceased to become a philosopher myself instantly. I’m not asserting that it’s necessarily true of everybody involved in the study of philosophy—although I do wonder what a Christian expects to gain by studying philosophy. It is something of a mystery to me. I’m not saying they shouldn’t do it but I find it hard to know whatever they think they will get because Paul says “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Christ.” Why go around to the garbage can when you can get the treasures?
But listen to this.
“We speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began.”
If that doesn’t excite you, you haven’t heard it. God has got a secret wisdom that’s intended for our glory. I believe that it’s intended to make us share the throne with Jesus. I believe that’s why it’s for our glory. It talks by contrast of the rulers of this world who come to nothing. I believe the secret wisdom is the way to the throne which is by way of the cross. Verse 8:
“None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. However, as it is written: No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.”
So the natural means of understanding are ruled out. The sense are ruled out, intellectual speculation is ruled out. They are not ways to this hidden wisdom.
But, thank God for the “but” that follows.
“But God has revealed it to us by his Spirit.”
Notice the tense. It’s not going to happen, it has happened. The revelation is there.
And then some of the most profound words in scripture, I think.
“The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him?”
I think that’s very important. Man’s mind doesn’t know all that’s in him. It’s man’s spirit that knows what’s in him. In Zechariah 12 the Lord says, “He forms the spirit of man within him.” So, there’s nothing in man that isn’t known to the Lord. In Hebrews 4 it says, “The word of God penetrates to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit.” The word is God’s X-ray that lays bare everything inside a human being.
But, the purpose of the statement here is that in the same way the only source of revelation of the things of God is the Spirit of God. Verse 11, the second part of the verse.
“In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us.”
Again, the Spirit is the administrator of the inheritance. It’s all given but we don’t know it except by the Spirit.
“This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words.”
Because of my background I think I’m very sensitive to that. When I hear Christians using psychiatric or psychological or philosophical jargon, something in me gets alarmed. The truths of the Bible really can only be correctly expressed in the language of the Bible. I think particularly the nature of man, as far as I’m concerned, is a basic revelation of scripture that man consists of spirit, soul and body. Any kind of classification that blurs that delineation ends in confusion.
I believe there’s certain things that can only be known by revelation. One is the nature of God, two is the origin of man, three is the nature of man. There is no natural means scientific or philosophic to discover these things. If we do not accept revelation we remain in a state of uncertainty and confusion. What I was saying is that we come to an area where we are dependent on revelation which comes by the Holy Spirit through the word of God, we cannot set aside the scripture. It’s the word and the Spirit.
There are three particular things which man has always wanted to know which he has groped after through many centuries which, I believe, cannot be discovered by man’s rational activity. One is the nature of God. Second is the origin of man and third is the nature of man. Man cannot see inside himself. There’s only one mirror that shows him and we know what that mirror is, the word of God. While we look in the mirror, 1Corinthians 3, the Spirit changes us into the likeness of what we see. If we take our eyes off the mirror the operation of the Holy Spirit ceases.
This is particularly real for me because of my background. I don’t usually get involved in this but you see, many different philosophers speculated on the nature of God and they sought to do it by what they would term “logical analysis.” But they arrived at totally different results. I mean, absolutely, totally contrary results. One concluded that God was the only reality. Another concluded there was no God. Both of them claimed to arrive by logical analysis at a certain conclusion. Plato had one picture of God, Aristotle had another picture of God. I believe we are shut up to divine revelation and that does not suit the arrogant mind of contemporary man. Because of his puny successes in the field of science he’s become convinced that he can find out anything he wants to. I don’t believe he can. I believe God is a self revealing God. That doesn’t suit man the least bit either, that we are dependent on God for his decision as to whether we know him or not. If he’s not feeling like revealing himself to us we can never know him.
One of the statements I like in Job is he doesn’t give account of anything he does. He’s not answerable.
We’re going on in 1Corinthians 2. Let me go back to verse 13.
“This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom...”
And I would include or specify psychiatry, psychology, philosophy, almost all the things that end in “ology.” But we still come back to verse 13.
“...expressing spiritual truth in spiritual words.”
Again, I have some problems with some modern translations because they obscure the connections in words. I really like the New International Version. As a radio preacher it really suits me because its language is so clear and it breaks long complicated sentences up into shorter ones. So, speaking to a radio listener, it’s really the ideal translation. But, there are areas in which I feel it moves too far away from the words and structure of the original. As a matter of fact, we’re coming to one right now.
“The man without the Spirit...”
In a way that’s a good translation. But what the Greek says is the “soulish man.” I mean, that’s exactly what it is. The man who relies on his soul, not on the Holy Spirit revealing through his spirit. You see, the Spirit has revelation, the soul has ideas. God is not an idea. You can know all the theories about God and not know God. If I’m right, theology is in the realm of the soul. The knowledge of God is in the realm of the Spirit. And, again if I’m right, the real important things about God can be said in extremely simple language. If you want a pattern, read 1John. I think the two profoundest statements in the Bible each consist of three words each of one syllable. God is love and God is light. I don’t know anything more profound than that.
It seems to me I’m on this theme today so I might as well go. I don’t admire complicated formulas. It’s easy to produce them. What’s difficult is to say the right thing simply. My aim is to do that. I never claim I’ve fully achieved it but I work at it. I find if I cannot say something simply it’s probably because I myself have not understood it clearly. There’s a German saying which says “What’s said in an obscure way is thought in an obscure way.” Obscurity of expression reveals obscurity of thought.
It’s really interesting to me that the apostle John was probably maybe 80 or 90 years old when he wrote that first epistle. He was perhaps the man who’d been closest to Jesus in his earthly life. God had permitted him to live beyond, as far as we know, all the rest of the apostles. Here is this man out of a background of spiritual wealth and experience and fruit. And the last thing he has to say to us—except the book of Revelation which is in a different category—is this epistle of John. You take it, it’s in the most simple context. Good and evil, light and dark, love and hate, sin and righteousness. When we cease to think in those categories we’re headed for confusion and we’re probably headed for sin because if you don’t have clear delineation then you can easily excuse yourself for doing things which are not really excusable.
We’re still trying to get to verse 14!
“The soulish man does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God...”
That’s a profound statement. Really it is. The man who relies on his natural reasoning does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God.
“...for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.”
And he is not exercising a spirit, he’s exercising his soul. You see how much better the contrast is if you have the soulish man and then you have the spiritual. The problem in English is we don’t really have the word “soulish.” The Greek word is psuchekosfrom which we have the English word psychic. It has a totally different association—although the psychic is also soulish. It’s a counterfeit of that which is truly spiritual.
“The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man’s judgment.”
That is so profound a statement I am pretty sure I don’t fully understand it. At any rate, I don’t live in it. I think the Greek says the spiritual man discerns all things but he himself is discerned of no man. Verse 16:
“For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?”
That’s a quotation from Isaiah 40. In other words, who is in a position to give God advice? Lots of us think we are. I’ve recently been reading through the book of Job in Hebrew and it’s very hard Hebrew. It took me a long while. Ruth and I read it together. I read the Hebrew then she reads an English translation. We started in September and we didn’t actually finish ‘til about a month ago. There’s a lot of things I didn’t understand in Job but I got one thing pretty clear. That when God eventually came in the storm and he talked to Job, the essence of what he said was this: “Job, would you like to take over running the universe?” I mean, that’s the simple issue. As I thought that over I kept saying, “Lord, I’m not even volunteering.” But you see, a lot of us really from time to time act as though we could give God some good advice.
Now we come to this closing dramatic statement:
“But we have the mind of Christ.”
I think it’s Philips who says incredible though it may seem, we have the mind of Christ. That’s a little more than a translation but I think, in a way, it does bring out the emphasis that Paul had. Incredible though it may seem, we have the mind of Christ.
I believe it’s significant that it’s plural. It’s not “I” have the mind of Christ, it’s “we” have the mind of Christ. I believe it from the council of God to the council of God’s men. I don’t believe any of us can completely appropriate the mind of Christ on our own. I think it’s very important.
I heard Charles Simpson say recently, “God has hidden his wisdom in the other members of the body.” So, we cannot just say, Brother, I don’t need you, I’m going to find out all the answers for myself. It doesn’t matter to me what happens to you.” It does.
The two great crises of Israel’s deliverance and entry into the Promised Land: Their deliverance from Egypt at the Passover, their entrance into the Promised Land under Joshua. God absolutely insisted on one thing. Every Israelite had to be there. Not one was to be left behind. I think there are some things in the church which God says either you all do it or nobody does it. There’s no individualism here. In many things, it was left to individuals. Some did, some didn’t. But you read the regulations for the exodus. God said, “You’re not going to leave even one hoof of one cow behind. You all get out.” No one gets out unless all get out. And the same with entering. Every Israelite that was ordained of God had to move in. I think we understand now, most of us from a Protestant background, we have been imbued with excessively individualistic outlooks. As long as I am right in my doctrine, that’s all that matters. I don’t believe that’s true. In fact, rightness of doctrine—although it’s important—is not primary. Rightness of relationship takes precedence over rightness of doctrine, that’s my personal conviction.
Now we come to this statement “We have the mind of Christ.” Here we are with the council of the Godhead available to us. It’s the mind of Christ imparted by the Holy Spirit. I think that’s very clear from the passage we’ve looked at. I just want to give a practical application to that. I think I’ve made it clear that the council of the Godhead is primary, it’s the origin of everything, it’s the source of creation. The decision to create was made in the council of the Godhead. The decision of redemption was made in the council of the Godhead. The choice of the apostle Paul was made in the council of the Godhead. They were collective decisions.
So, the ultimate pattern of how to do things is the Godhead. I’ve come to believe this as a general principle that the essence of the gospel functionally is to project the life of God onto earth. The gospel in its essence is an invitation from the Godhead to join them. I think because that’s a rather startling statement I can substantiate it very clearly. Just turn to 1John 1:1–3. My point in turning to this passage is to substantiate what I said that the end purpose of the gospel is an invitation to man to join the fellowship of the Godhead.
“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the word of life. The life appeared [it appeared in Jesus]; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard...”
It’s very important to bear in mind that the basis of the gospel is history. Again, that distinguished it from every other religion of any significance that I’m familiar with. It is not just a religious or philosophical system. You take either Islam or Buddhism, although they’re connected with the life of a certain teacher, really they have no direct contact with the events of history. But Christianity is historical. It speaks about things that happen in human history. It’s either true or false but it’s not just a theoretical system. This makes it completely different from those other religions. Different in kind.
Furthermore, one of its main verifications is that it produces specific results in people who embrace it. So it’s an empirically verifiable faith. You can embrace Buddhism and it will never really be checked out. Likewise with Islam and various other religions. With Christianity it’s tied in to human experience and history. There’s no sitting on the fence. It’s either true or it’s false. Either Jesus did arise from the dead or he didn’t but there’s no in between. If he did, the whole thing is true. If he didn’t, the whole thing is false. It’s rather appropriate at this season of the year to remember it. Our whole faith revolves around historical facts. God was not afraid to put it to the test of history.
Why do we have these historical facts presented to us? Let’s go to verse 3 of 1John 1 again.
“We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.”
So why was the record presented to us? This is the New Testament record, it’s we the apostles have left this historical record with you. Why? That you may have fellowship with us, apostles, and our fellowship is with the Father and with the Son. So the end practical purpose of the New Testament and of the gospel is to bring man into the fellowship of the Godhead.
God isn’t going to change but he invites us to join him. He has already laid down the laws of fellowship. They’re not changing. But we’re invited to come in and learn them and live them out.
In the Godhead we have this perfect blend of plurality and unity. I hope there’s no one here that has any theological problems about that. This is the concept that I believe the Holy Spirit is emphasizing to the church and we find it difficult to know how to receive it and apply it. I believe myself the ultimate human authority in the church is plural. That’s in line with the Godhead. However, within that plurality I believe there are principles that are not egalitarian. You understand what I mean by egalitarian? It’s one of the principles of the contemporary culture. Everybody is equal. I’m as good as my father, I’m as good as the president, I don’t say anybody is better than anybody else. We’re all alike, we’re all equal, we all have one vote and we’re free to use it whatever way we please. That spirit is deeply imbued into contemporary culture, not least in America. It’s not the Spirit of God. Actually, it’s contrary to the deepest principles of God.
God doesn’t run the universe as a democracy. That’s almost heresy to some Americans. Let me say something and inject something. I spent eight years of my life on the continent of Africa. When Americans talk about Africa and specifically South Africa, they all assume that justice and democracy are synonymous. They aren’t. It’s possible to have a very just government that is not democratic. And virtually speaking, there are no functioning democracies anywhere in Africa. Probably Kenya has got as near to it as any. So, the whole American concept of what Africa is like is vitiated by a totally false understanding.
That’s just an example. There are very few countries where democracy has ever really worked. And they’re getting fewer. I don’t know that the United States is on the list any longer. Personally, I feel that democracy demands a certain type of individual and character and that has been systematically eroded for the past four decades with the result that democracy is virtually ceasing to be effective. That’s just an opinion. I say it because I think we have to see we’re talking about something that’s very, very different from all that our contemporary culture would inject into us.
What is the pattern of the Godhead? It’s unity but it’s not egalitarian. It’s not everybody is equal. Jesus said, “I and my Father are one.” But he also said what? “My Father is greater than I.” Within unity there is a distinction that does not put everybody on the same level.
As I see it—and this I believe is a profound truth which I would not claim to be able to fully analyze—I grasped it by accident probably about 10 or 12 years ago. I heard myself say—which has happened to me many times and I thought to myself what did I say and where is that going to lead me? And, I was rather scared. Two brothers heard me say it. One was Charles Simpson, the other was Bob Mumford. Each of them latched on to it I think more rapidly than I did. Anybody that is a preacher will realize you say things when you’re preaching that are true but you don’t understand them. I was so glad to read in Andrew Murray’s writings, he said to his daughter, “You must bear in mind in my books I state truths which I have not yet arrived at yet myself.” I think basically in preaching you preach ahead of yourself. I know in the case of John Wesley, when he was confronted with the truth of regeneration and the witness of the Spirit, he resolved to preach it before he had experienced it. As he preached it he entered into the experience.
So, a preacher is not a hypocrite if he preaches ahead of himself. If I’m convinced that a thing is in the Bible and the Holy Spirit has brought it to my attention, I’ll say it because I believe the Bible. If I had to confine myself to saying only what I fully understand, I wouldn’t have much to say. So, now I’m going to make this statement. I see in the Godhead—and I think we’re dealing almost with ultimate truth at this point—three eternal principles that must be stated in the right order. Number one, fatherhood. Number two, headship. Number three, fellowship. We’ve already seen that the Godhead has fellowship because we have been invited into the fellowship of the Father and Son.
But, if you think—or if we think—that fellowship is everybody on the same level slapping one another on the back and saying, “Praise the Lord, brother,” that’s a totally unscriptural view of fellowship. Fellowship doesn’t function like that. I remember years back in a certain city I was preaching in a Pentecostal church on a Sunday morning. I brought a rather good message. There was a real glow of the presence of the Lord at the end of the service and the pastor stood up and in all sincerity he said, “Now don’t hurry home to your noon meal. Stay and have fellowship. Shake hands with a few people.” I thought to myself, “Dear Lord, is that fellowship? Shaking hands with a few people before you go home for the noon meal?” I thought what a very meager ration God’s people are living with. If you’re going to have egalitarianism, that’s about what you’ll have. Shake hands with a few people, slap a couple of people on the back and say, “Praise the Lord brother. Good to see you. See you next Sunday.” And then go home and do your own thing. That is not fellowship.
Fellowship depends on the two preceding principles. Fatherhood which is the basic principle of the universe. Behind all else in the universe is God the Father. Again, we make a tangent with philosophy. Perhaps the greatest question in philosophy is what is the prime cause? Or how did it all begin? And again, endless different answers have been proposed and are being proposed. The Bible’s answer is very simple. It all started with the Father. Behind everything in the universe there is our Father God. When you believe that it should make you a totally different kind of person from the person who don’t believe. It gives you two things: Identity and security which basically, the unbelieving world doesn’t have.
Out of Fatherhood proceeds headship. Where Fatherhood and headship are functioning you can have fellowship. Paul said God is the head of Christ. God the Father has authority over Jesus Christ the Son. As I understand it, the Holy Spirit is submissive to both. The Father and the Son together send the Spirit to represent them. I mean, that’s an age-old theological debate which separated the eastern and the western churches was whether it’s the Father and the Son or the other way around. But we’re not going into that! All I’m saying is that there is submission and submissiveness in the Godhead. The Son is submissive to the Father, the Spirit is submissive to the Father and the Son. Yet all are divine and they are one.
I don’t know that that confuses me, I’m sure I don’t comprehend it all but I don’t find it, you know, difficult. I just find it different. I mean, it’s not like the way things happen on earth but that’s all right. That doesn’t disappoint me, it doesn’t confuse me.
What I’m trying to get to is a practical application. It’s taken me a long while to get to, let’s try to do it. If we want to reproduce the council of the Godhead in our councils on earth in plurality, first of all, to receive the council of God we are totally dependent on the Holy Spirit. There is on other source. You can sit and plan and theorize and argue and debate but you’ll get nowhere without the Holy Spirit.
And in order to receive the council of the Holy Spirit we have to behave in a way which attracts the Holy Spirit—that does not offend him but pleases him. To do that we have to relate rightly to each other. The Holy Spirit comes where we are rightly related and stays away where we are not. The key to effective, collective leadership is right relationship within the leadership. Right relationship will reproduce what is in the Godhead. Fatherhood, headship and then fellowship.
I believe that wherever God produces a family, there has to be a father. I could justify this linguistically. The word used for family in Ephesians 3:14–15 is the word derived from father. Father is pater, family is patria. No father, no family. I think that we know even in spite of all the propaganda we know that that is true on earth. No father, no family. And where the father fails the family, more or less, falls apart.
We are talking now—and it’s very delicate ground we’re on. I don’t want to say anything that would cause people to go to extremes or to say we’ll do it as commencing Tuesday morning. I think the essence of what we’re looking for is discerning fatherhood, recognizing that fatherhood gives headship and that where fatherhood and headship are properly functioning, we will have fellowship. Our relationships will be such that the Holy Spirit will be attracted and he will open to us the council of God.
What I’m saying therefore is that in order to succeed, you have to find out your appointed function. You have to function in right relationship to the other leaders who are in the council of which you are part. I suppose if I were to choose one word that’s the key—well, I could use one or two. One would be the fear of the Lord. Probably that, in a way, is the most scriptural. The council of the Lord is for those who fear him. The reverent fear of God. Don’t turn away from the word “fear of the Lord.” I have a tape that’s called “The Heart Perfect Before God” which is really about the fear of the Lord. I think I would have done better to name it that. I’m only saying I have that if you’ve never studied it. If you study what the Bible says about the fear of the Lord and the things that come out of it, you will covet the fear of the Lord. I don’t know any other thing to which such tremendous blessings are promised as the fear of the Lord. “The fear of the Lord tendeth to life and he that hath it shall abide satisfied and shall not be visited with evil.” What more could you want than that? That’s one out of about ten fantastic promises of God attached to the fear of the Lord. I really believe if I have to be scriptural, that is the key to functioning in the council of God.
And it’s the key to entering into an understanding of the covenant of God. I do not believe the natural mind of man can grasp what covenant is. I know I tried and I was just baffled and I remember some of you probably heard Charles Simpson preach about when he tried to preach on covenant and every time something went wrong with the tape. And then he realized God was making something go wrong with the tape because he didn’t have anything to say! How gracious the Lord is to erase our mistakes. It cannot be apprehended but by revelation. The revelation is granted to those who fulfill the character requirement which is the fear of the Lord.
Now, joined with the fear of the Lord is an attitude to one another. Let’s turn to Ephesians 5:21 for a moment. My translation says this:
“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
But that incenses differing to modern prejudice because the word is fear. So, it’s fear of Christ leads us to do what? Submit to one another. I believe that’s the other key to releasing the council of God. Submitting to one another.
I feel I probably need to close but I want to add that what I’m saying is dangerous. I want to warn you. Somebody said—I think it was in Latin but I’ll quote it—“The corruption of the best is the worst.” This thing is either very good or very bad. I would say unless you’re really willing to meet the conditions, don’t fool around with it. Just stay in your happy little church plot and play your Sunday school games and entertain the sisters and take up the missionary offering. But don’t get into this unless you have a heart to go through with it and you’re prepared to take the suffering that will almost inevitably be associated with it.
In the natural, fatherhood—there’s no way around. If you want to have a family you’ve got to have a father. In a sense, the father is the key to the family. But, if the father fails, the result is a mess. Okay. And there’s really no way to avoid that. You might say it isn’t fair of God to arrange it that way so that the whole family depends on the proper functioning of the father. Well, I just say as God says, do you want to take over the running of the universe? That’s just the way things are arranged because that’s the way they’re arranged. It’s not in our power to make them different. There’s a lot of second best for where the father fails but there’s no substitute. I have deep compassion and sympathy—doubtless there are those of you here who know what it’s like to be part of a family where the father has failed. Unfortunately, there are millions of such families in the United States. Probably the basic problem of the United States.
I might say at the end something about this prophetically now that I’m on this subject but let me just go one step further. I believe the same is true in the spiritual realm. I believe if you want a family you have to acknowledge a father. But, if the father fails it’s going to be a horrible mess and there really isn’t any way to avoid it. You just have to go through it. You cannot say because the father fails we’ll never do things that way. Actually, that’s as impractical as saying in the natural we’ll have a family without a father. Just try. I don’t know any way it can be done. You can dishonor the father, you can have a long distance father but somewhere or other there’s got to be a father. I believe what is so manifestly true in the natural is no less true in the spiritual.
And I would say one more thing. I would say there’s an supremely wicked spiritual force that contends against fatherhood natural and spiritual. It’s witchcraft. That is the real Satanic objective of witchcraft is to emasculate males and destroy fatherhood.
I would say to you that there are a lot of Christian activities that don’t scare the devil the least bit. They may win individuals to Christ but they will never do any major damage to the devil’s kingdom. I think there are some Christian activities the devil is interested to promote. I have been somewhat involved in a situation recently—and I have to be careful what I’m saying—where a very large congregation was built up very rapidly with very spectacular success and growth. But the man whom God used had a deep inner personal problem and when everything was at its height the problem broke and I would say, in a sense, the bubble burst. I think it’s very possible that ultimately more harm than good will come to the kingdom of God from that whole situation. So, the devil didn’t any reason to hinder the success of that work because it was fighting for him.
I think there are lots of operations in the kingdom of God which the devil really wants to see succeed because he knows sooner or later they’ll crumble. And when they do, the victory for him will be greater than the victory for Christ. I tell you, there’s one thing the devil fears. It’s the man who will rule. Against that, he’ll fight with everyone.
Let’s turn to Revelation for a moment. Revelation 12:1–5.
“A great and wondrous sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his heads. His tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that he might devour her child the moment it was born. She gave birth to a son, a male child, who will rule all the nations with an iron scepter.”
Now, I’m not interpreting the exact application, I’m just eliciting the principle. What is the one thing the devil primarily opposes? It’s the birth of a male who will rule. I do believe that’s the first objective of the devil in dealing with the church, is to prevent the birth of the male who will rule.
Now, let’s turn to the end of the Old Testament for a moment to Malachi 4:5–6. And again, I am not necessarily undertaking to explain the full outworking of this prophecy although I do believe what Jesus said is yet to be fulfilled. Elijah truly shall come first and restore all things. But that’s not exactly what I’m aiming at right here.
“See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land [or the earth] with a curse.”
This is obviously a situation that’s just prior to the close of the age before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. God has to send a special minister to do a special job. The minister is Elijah—however you wish to interpret that it’s not important. What’s the job? To reconcile fathers with their children. God says unless this ministry is accomplished there will be no alternative but to strike the earth with a curse. So, we understand that this situation between fathers and children inevitably will bring a curse unless it is adjusted.
It indicates to me that the great social problem at the close of this age will be disrupted, broken families where the fathers are not in their right relationship with the children. I think we can say, in many ways, that’s very, very prevalent already. It seems that the Lord puts the primary responsibility on the fathers, not on the children. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and then the children to the fathers.
Now, there’s on other very significant fact. In some ways Elijah is God’s ace. I mean, when he’s played Elijah there’s not much left to play. And really, there isn’t much needed. The previous occasion when Elijah appeared, he accomplished the most tremendous results. He called down fire from heaven, he killed all the false prophets, he had all Israel on their faces saying “the Lord, he is the God.” No man has probably had a greater individual success than Elijah in the ministry of God except possibly Moses.
But there was one root problem in Israel at that time that was greater than the false prophets, the backsliding of Israel. And, it was a problem that even Elijah found hard to handle. What was it? Jezebel, that’s right. What does Jezebel stand for in one word? Witchcraft. And let’s just face up to the reality of this. This was a frightening revelation to me when it first came. Even Elijah ran from Jezebel. When I realized that I was facing the same power that was represented by Jezebel, I took stock of my situation. I just paused and said am I ready to go through with this? The only reason I’ve gone through with it is simply that I was afraid of the Lord because the Lord very definitely and specifically ordered me to do it. If I have to choose between displeasing the Lord or displeasing Jezebel, then I’ll go for displeasing Jezebel which I think I’ve succeeded in doing.
What I’m saying is, I’m drawing a principle out of this. When Elijah appears on the scene, you know what the root problem is. It’s Jezebel. Elijah is God’s answer to Jezebel.
So when you see this end time breakdown of family life and the emasculation of males and the failure of fatherhood, what’s the root spiritual cause? Jezebel or witchcraft. That, I believe is the truth about our situation today.
I relate that to what I’ve been saying because if what I’ve been teaching about the council of God is correct and scriptural, it depends on functioning fatherhood. The devil’s great way of preventing that coming to being is to release the power of witchcraft. That, I believe, reveals two things. What our objectives should be which is to reproduce on earth in the church, so far as we humanly can, the council of the Godhead with Fatherhood, headship and fellowship.
And the second thing that it makes clear is that to do that we will have to wage war with witchcraft. That is the obstacle. I don’t know how you do it but to me it’s exactly the way it is. It doesn’t take any twisting of any scriptures to see that’s exactly our situation today.
But to close and bring a practical application to you men as leaders, let me suggest to you that your objective as leaders should be to find your place in a leadership council which functions on the model of the Godhead. Amen.