This teaching includes a free sermon outline to download for personal use, message preparation or Bible study discussion.
Father, we just bow reverently before thee now. We submit our thoughts, our will, ourselves to thee. Thy word declares shall we not much rather be in subjection to the Father of Spirits and live. We choose to be in subjection to thee and to thy Holy Spirit. We ask that thy Holy Spirit shall lead us into the truth, shall take the things of Christ and reveal them unto us. Make these truths real and apply them in a very definite and personal way in our lives. Work out thy will and glorify thy name. We ask it in the name of Jesus, Amen.
The theme that we are going to study in this series of four messages is indicated by the title on your outline, “Seven Pictures of God’s People.” These seven pictures of God’s people are all taken from Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians. In a moment we’ll look through the seven pictures pointing out where each one is found in Ephesians. But, first of all, I just want to make two brief introductory remarks about the epistles to the Ephesians which I believe are interesting and relevant.
First of all, if you look at the opening verse of Ephesians you’ll find it was addressed to the church at Ephesus by Paul alone. It says, “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ” et cetera. This distinguishes it from many of Paul’s other epistles which were written by him and a group of persons like Paul and Timothy, or Paul and Silas and Timothy, or Paul and Epaphroditas, whoever it might be. And I think that the Holy Spirit has chosen where Paul’s name shall appear alone in the epistles. It appears alone in Romans and it appears alone in Ephesians. I believe there’s a significant reason. Each of those epistles contains a unique revelation which was granted only to Paul and he was the authority and the one responsible for that revelation.
It frightens me when I think of the amount of responsibility that God placed upon Paul. At one point Paul speaks about “my gospel” implying, I think, that if it hadn’t been for Paul we’d have never had a gospel. I think Romans contains a unique revelation granted to Paul of the principles of salvation by faith through grace and Ephesians grants a unique revelation of God’s people.
There are other epistles of Paul that are written only by himself but they’re addressed to individuals as, for instance, to Timothy or to Titus. I think they are the basis of an individual father/son relationship in the Spirit.
At any rate, we’re dealing with Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians. No one else co-authored it. And it deals with some of the most tremendous spiritual revelations of scripture. One of the key words found in it is the word “heavenly” which occurs five times.
And then side by side with that we notice where it was written from. Where was it written from? A jail. I believe there’s a significance in that. I think in order to ascend to the highest we have to go down to the lowest. I believe this is a principle which God is emphasizing for all of us today and it’s emphasized in the epistle. If you want to go up you start by going down. It’s exemplified in the epistle by Jesus. Ephesians 4, just two verses which are in parentheses in that 4th chapter. Ephesians 4:9–10. Speaking about Jesus it says:
“Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.”
The emphasis is the same one who went up was the one who first went down. I believe this is a spiritual principle.
And in Ephesians 5:21 I think the principle is applied to all of us, which says:
“Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.”
Some people today are really upset by that word “submission”. But to me, that’s illogical. I would say the scripture obviously requires all of us as believers to submit to one another. How we’re to do it and on what basis is something that we need to know. But to oppose submission flatly like that is, in my opinion, unwise.
So the highest revelation of God’s people came to a man sitting in a jail. I often ask myself whether God had to get Paul put in jail to get him caught up with his correspondence! If he was like most preachers I know, that was probably the only way that he could get him anchored long enough to take up the pen. I think this is very important, I’m not jesting when I say this. We tend to think about Paul perhaps more than about any of the other apostles. I suppose his influence in some ways has been the greatest. The reason, I think, is in part that he wrote the most.
I would say in this present tremendous revolution of ideas that’s going through the church, that people who take up the pen and get it down in writing will leave the final imprint on God’s people. There’s a sort of authority and permanence about the written word which is still valid today in spite of television and audio tapes and everything. I think the final impact and imprint is made by the written word preserved in permanent form in print.
For my part, I really sincerely pray that God will not have to put me in jail in order to get my writing done. Writing is much harder than speaking. It’s harder to sit at a desk and write than it is to travel around and be dramatic on a pulpit. God has called me to do quite a lot of writing and I think he’s speaking to me about doing it considerably more. That is partly probably why I’m sharing these thoughts with you now. You know, if you do hear about me being in jail, just pray I get the writings out, would you! Don’t pray me out too soon, just let me get the work done first.
Sincerely though, I really believe that one of the things that God is challenging us all of—not least myself—is this attitude of humility. Humility is not a feeling, it’s a decision. When you will to humble yourself, there’ll be opportunities. Don’t pray for them before you’re willing because you’ll be embarrassed.
There’s two scriptures in Proverbs that I’ve included at the end of this little introduction. You don’t need to turn to them, the references are given there. But the latter part of each verse says this:
“Before honor is humility.”
I believe that’s divine order. If you want honor, practice humility. You do the going down, God will do the raising up. Promotion comes from where? From the Lord. He’s the one who puts down and raises up. Don’t study to be promoted, study to be humble.
Let’s look now at the seven pictures and I think you’ll see immediately how diverse they are, which fascinates me. I’m always afraid of getting a stereotype set of people claiming to be the people of God. I don’t know whether you’ve noticed how quickly religious people tend to conform to one another. You walk into a certain church, they all talk a certain way, they all use a certain kind of language. In many cases, they all tend to dress alike.
When I first came to the United States I was associate pastor of an Assembly of God church in the Midwest. You know, the Assemblies of God have no uniform, they don’t wear clerical attire. But I noticed all preachers basically dressed exactly alike. They all had a certain kind of trousers, a certain kind of jacket. This frightens me. I’m not afraid of uniforms. If there is a specific uniform, that’s all right because I wore a uniform in the British Army for five and a half years. A uniform does not submerge you, in a sense. But I am afraid of all God’s people just beginning to use the same clichés, say “Praise the Lord” at the same moment in the message. You know, getting so tiresomely alike.
One of the things I want to emphasize is the tremendous diversity there is in the people of God according to these pictures. Let’s look at them. The first one is Ephesians 1:22. They’re listed there in your outline but we’ll just go through them quickly. Ephesians 1:22:
“God has put all things under his [Christ’s] feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church...”
We have to pause there because the word church is so vague and meaningless that we really don’t get what Paul is telling us. This is the first picture of God’s people. The Greek word is ekklesia, and ekklesiahas a specific meaning in secular Greek. It means an assembly, the governing body of a state or a city. It’s formed from a Greek verb ?ekkalo? which means “I call out.” So if you put the entire derivation of the word together it’s an assembly of people formed by calling them out from a larger group.
In Acts 19 we have three cases where the word is used in its secular meaning and I think it’s worthwhile looking at them for a moment. The writers of the New Testament did not invent this word, they took it and applied it. It was a word already in use. Acts 19:32. This describes things that happened in the city of Ephesus after Paul had been ministering there quite awhile.
“Some therefore cried one thing, and some another: for the assembly was confused...”
And Acts 19:39 the town clerk said:
“But if you enquire anything concerning other matters, it shall be determined in a lawful assembly.”
“And when he had thus spoken, he dismissed the assembly.”
The word is ekklesia. The assembly there was the governing body of the city of Ephesus. Notice that the assembly was not the place but the people. Interestingly enough, where did they meet in Ephesus? If you know the story you can tell me. What building did they use to meet in? The theater. They met in the city theater but it was the assembly that met in the theater. So, we’ll go into this with a little more detail in the latter part of this study, but let’s grasp this fact first. The first picture of God’s people—and I think the order is very significant—is the assembly.
Then in the next verse we have the next picture. Ephesians 1:23, the assembly:
“Which is his body...”
The second picture is the Body of Christ.
Going on to Ephesians 2:10 we have the third picture.
“For we are his workmanship...”
Or masterpiece. The word is in the realm of creation and of art. The fourth picture is in Ephesians 2:19:
“Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God.”
What word would we use in modern English for household? Family. So the fourth picture is God’s family.
Then two verses further down we have the fifth picture, that’s Ephesians 2:21:
“In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord.”
What’s the word there? Temple or building. Building is generic, temple is specific. We are a building. What kind of a building? A temple. So we are God’s temple.
Then in Ephesians 5 we have the sixth picture which is there by implication, not by actual statement. The implication is very clear. Ephesians 5:25-27:
“Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church...”
Christ is represented as the husband, the church is represented as the bride or the wife. So the sixth picture is the bride of Christ.
And then the seventh picture is in Ephesians 6, reading from verse 10:
“Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armor of God...[verse 13] wherefore take unto you the whole armor of God...”
What kind of people put on armor? Soldiers. What’s the selective word for a group of soldiers together? An army. So the seventh picture is an army.
Now, just for a moment, notice those last two pictures: Number six, the bride; number seven, the army. What could be more different in all their associations and implications than a bride and an army! So don’t settle down just for being a soldier, you’ve got to learn to be part of the bride. Or, don’t be just a beautiful, soft, gracious, lovely bride and forget that you’ve got to be a tough, warlike, trained, equipped soldier with your armor. Just the moment you think I’ve arrived, this is it; you discover there’s a whole new area of truth that you’ve got to move into.
Let’s just take those seven pictures and go through them, naming them together one after the other. Look at your outline.
Number one, the assembly.
Number two, the body.
Number three, workmanship.
Number four, the family.
Number five, the temple.
Number six, the bride.
And number seven, the army.
Now as we go through this study systematically, we’re going to ask ourselves in connection with each picture three things, three questions which are there in the outline. And I’m aiming to start where we usually do not start, from God’s point of view and not ours. For instance, our attitude about the baptism in the Holy Spirit. “I got baptized in the Holy Spirit. I felt so wonderful, I felt so happy. I got so free. I spoke in tongues.” In other words, what did it do for me. And many people baptized in the Holy Spirit never get to the point of what would they do for God, what was God’s purpose in it which is very different. So I want to start from that end.
The first question is, “What purpose of God does it serve?” What does God get out of the army, what does God get out of the bride? The second question is, “What does it imply or require in our relationship to God?” If I’m part of the army, what does that tell me about my relationship to the commander in chief? And the third question is, “What does it imply or require in our relationship to the others in the group?” In other words, if I’m a soldier, what must be my attitude toward my fellow soldiers? What’s the thing that God is emphasizing most in that picture in our obligations, relationships to one another?
So, with each of these pictures we’ll go through in turn asking ourselves these questions and seeking the answers. I will give you opportunity to volunteer your answers. I have my own, they’re not necessarily right. There’s many of them where two or three or four different words could be an answer.
We’re going to start now with the first picture, the assembly. It will take us the rest of this study to get through because this is very, very important. I think in many ways it’s the key to the rest. You’ll see in your outline that I have applied the three questions to the word assembly and I’ve left a little dotted line for you if you want to write in your answer. It’s important at this point that we get our minds together so we’ll take a little while to adjust.
Looking now at your outline, the assembly expresses God’s what? Stop and think for a moment. What is the basic connotation of the word assembly? Gathering is all right, it’s a calling together. But, just for a moment, just in going back in history in your mind—that’s right, you’ve said it. Government. The key word. It’s very, very important. If we miss this we’re not going to get what God has to say to us.
Most of you know I’m not American by birth. I don’t sound like one and probably never will. I’m an American by naturalization. My knowledge of American history is distinctly spotty. Every now and then I’ve discovered a few interesting facts and then my mind is a blank for another 50 years. One thing I did discover is the colony of Virginia before it became one of the states was administered by a government which was called an Assembly of Burgesses. So right back in the history of this nation the word assembly has got essentially a governmental meaning. That is the correct meaning.
Going back into the New Testament, the assembly was the governing body of the city or the state or whatever it was related to. So when we’re talking about assembly, we’re talking about God’s government which is one of the great themes that the Holy Spirit is emphasizing today. So we are God’s assembly.
What does this require toward God? Obedience will do for almost every one of them but I’ve reserved it for one of the others. What’s distinctive about an assembly? Picture a governmental body meeting and conducting its affairs. Authority we’ve already got. Order, that’s the word I’m looking for. I think you’ll find when we go a little further in this study when Paul says “that all things be done decently and in order”, he was talking about the assembly. And you know, there are certain rules of procedure, certain persons may do certain things. If you go to the opening of Parliament in Britain, it’s still a very dignified ceremony and somebody carries a ?mast? and somebody stands in one place, somebody in another and there are sergeants at arms and so on. The whole thing is a matter of order and decorum.
Now what is required in our relationship towards each other? In the assembly. Stop and think. You could give half a dozen answers but I want you to pick out the think that’s most characteristic of being in an assembly. Respect is a key word. The word I’ve written down is very close to it. It’s recognition which is very closely related. I think we have to recognize the office that each person holds in the assembly. God has given certain offices in the assembly: apostles, prophets, shepherds, teachers, miracles, gifts of healing, tongues and so on. We have to recognize the office, the charisma with which each person functions.
So, just to take those three questions and go back over them rapidly, the assembly represents God’s government or authority. It requires in us that we conduct ourselves with order and in our relationships with one another it demands recognition. You can write down something else if you like as long as you do the thinking. That’s what matters.
Before we go into the study of the assembly we’ve got to discuss one very crucial thing which is the conditions for admission to the assembly of God. Now when I say the assembly of God you’ll just have to forgive me. I’m not talking about the denomination Assemblies of God. Unfortunately, the denominations have grabbed all the words to describe God’s people whether it’s the Church of Christ, the Church of God, the Christian Church, the Disciples of Christ, the Assemblies of God. I mean, you go down the line, there’s nothing left. I just want to point out that with all respect for all these denominations, I’m not referring to any of them, I’m talking about the way these words are used in the Bible.
So, we need to know what are the conditions for admission to the assembly of God. This is a very, very solemn question. You see, if you go back to the city/state of Ephesus, not everybody in Ephesus was qualified for admission to the assembly. In fact, we could just look at an example for the moment. Certain people were excluded. Slaves were excluded and probably nearly half the population were slaves. They were out straightaway. Women were excluded. Women were not permitted to take their place in the assembly. Visitors, strangers or people who were just temporarily in the city were not permitted. So it was reserved for free citizens, residents in Ephesus. That was the qualification to be in the assembly of the city of Ephesus.
What are the qualifications to be in the assembly of the Lord Jesus Christ? They’re very, very important. I want to answer that out of two passages of scripture. The first one is Matthew 16:15–18. We won’t go into the background of this, interesting though it is, but we’ll just take the passage itself.
“He [Jesus] saith unto them [his disciples], But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said to him, Blessed art thou Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood has not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
Now let’s look at that and analyze it briefly. Jesus says to his disciples, “Whom do you say that I am?” Peter comes out boldly and says, “Thou art the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus says, “Blessed art thou, Simon-barjona—we’ll look at the meaning of that name in a moment—for flesh and blood has not revealed it unto thee.” It was a revelation that did not come from flesh and blood. It did not come by his natural reason or the use of his senses. It came from God the Father, it was granted by God the Holy Spirit. It did not reveal Jesus of Nazareth as the carpenter’s son whom he already knew, but it revealed Jesus in his divine, eternal nature as the Son of God, the Messiah. Through this revelation Peter qualified to be a stone built upon the rock. “Thou art Peter [petrosin Greek, a stone] and upon this rock [cliff, petra] I will build my assembly” Jesus said. So Peter is a stone to be built upon. Petra, the great craggy cliff. The essence of it is not comparing Peter with the rock but contrasting Peter with the rock. He is just a stone that’s to be built upon this tremendous word, this tremendous rock, petra.
First of all, I want to point out that the language of Jesus here is very emphatic. We somewhat miss it in the translation. “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock [petra] I will build my church.” All the emphasis is on the word “my”. I will build my church. My assembly.
What is Jesus saying? He’s saying in effect there are many assemblies. Each city/state has its assembly. Nations have their assemblies. He’s also saying by implication Moses had his assembly which he brought out of Egypt. But I am now building my assembly.
There’s a relationship between build and my. If Jesus does not build it he will not own it. He only owns that which he builds. A fellow preacher was speaking a certain time on the gifts of the Holy Spirit. At the end of his message a lady came up to him and said, “Brother So and So, we don’t have these gifts in our church.” He said, “Well, they have them in the church of Jesus Christ. Which is your church?” That’s really a very, very far reaching question. Which is your church? Is it his church? It’s not for me to answer the question but it is for me to point out that it’s a real question because Jesus said, “I will build my church.” The emphatic word is “my”. And he said if you want to get into my church, these are the requirements for entry. He made Peter the example.
What passed between Jesus and Peter at that point? Let’s look at it. I’ve reduced it to four successive phases. There was a direct confrontation. Peter met Jesus face to face. There was nobody in between them. There was no mediator, no middle man. Secondly, there was a revelation granted by God the Father through the Holy Spirit. Without that revelation, Peter could not have known what he said. Thirdly, Peter accepted, acknowledged the revelation. Fourthly, he confessed it. He said it out loud with his mouth. “Thou art the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” I believe that those four elements constitute the procedure for admission to the assembly of Jesus Christ. You cannot get into Christ’s assembly bypassing Christ. You have to meet him.
The first thing is confrontation. Second is revelation. You cannot know who Jesus is except the Father reveals it to you. Jesus said, “No man knows who the Father is but the Son, or who the Son is but the Father.” This does not suit proud, self-sufficient, arrogant present day intellectuals. It’s something you cannot do by reasoning or intellectual understanding. If God doesn’t reveal it, you can’t know it. In other words, God controls admission. You can’t walk up to the gate and say, “Hey, let me in.” It’s God’s grace and pleasure if he reveals to you. And if he doesn’t, you can’t know. You must receive the revelation and you must confess it out loud. There is no secret membership to the church of Jesus Christ.
There comes a point in our lives where we acknowledge him, confess him or we deny him. Matthew 10:32-33:
“Whosoever shall confess me... I will confess... Whosoever will deny me... I will deny...”
My experience is that there comes a moment in your life where you cannot sit on the fence one second longer. You either confess him or you deny him. If you confess him he will confess you. If you deny him he will deny you. But this must be done openly. You cannot sneak into the assembly. There is no back door. Jesus is the door.
Notice the language that he used to Peter. “Blessed art thou, Simon-barjona.” Simon is a Hebrew name that comes from the verb ?shemar?, to hear. So Simon is the one who hears. Baris the word for son of. Jonais the same as the prophet Jonah in the Old Testament. And the Hebrew word jonameans a dove. So blessed art thou, hearing one, son of the dove. The dove being the Holy Spirit. So by hearing what the Spirit says, you are born of the Spirit. The Spirit reveals to you who Jesus is. You accept the revelation, confess it and you are born into the kingdom of God; you’re admitted as a member to the assembly of Jesus Christ. No other qualifications for admission are accepted. This is very powerful. Membership in the assembly is so significant that you have to get related to every person of the Godhead. God the Father, by the Spirit, reveals the Son.
If you look in John 10, you come to the same thoughts. The first 11 verses of John 10. We will not go into reading it through because it will take too long. Jesus is talking about the sheepfold which is the picture of God’s people on earth, not God’s people in heaven. And he says there’s only one door into the sheepfold, and he says, “I am the door. By me, if any man enter in, he shall be saved.”
And then he goes on to say two verses later, “I am the shepherd.” Not only am I the door but I am also the shepherd. Well, you say to yourself—at least I’ve said to myself—how can one person be both the door and the shepherd? I turned this over in my mind and I think God gave me the answer. It’s very simple. Jesus crucified is the door. Jesus risen from the dead is the shepherd. If you want him as your shepherd you have to come through him as your door. If you do not come through Jesus on the cross you have no access to the fold. If you come in through the cross, you have access to the fold, and he becomes your shepherd.
Just turn for a moment to Hebrews 13 and just note a very beautiful phrase that’s used in the 13th chapter of Hebrews. Hebrews 13:20.
“Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep.”
When did he become the shepherd of the sheep? When God raised him from the dead. Crucified he is the door, resurrected he is the shepherd. If you want to know him as your shepherd, you have to come through him as your door.
Jesus said you can get into the sheepfold other ways. You can climb up by your own efforts. But he said if you climb up some other way, when you get inside you declare what you are which is? A thief and a robber. It’s very, very solemn. He said, “All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers.” That’s a very, very solemn statement. Mainly religious people dislike it intensely. There are not half a dozen different ways, there is only one way. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, the light. No man cometh unto the Father but by me.” And when he said all who ever came before me are thieves and robbers, he dismissed some famous names: Plato, Socrates, Buddha, Confucius, a whole host of people. Anybody who claims to show the way to God apart from Jesus Christ is a deceiver.
I spent seven years of my life studying the philosophy of Plato. I read in Greek every word that Plato ever wrote, and that’s a lot of words. It was a shock to me when I had to acknowledge that this man whom I had admired and studied and filled my mind with was a deceiver, thief and a robber. Many people don’t like to acknowledge that. Jesus makes it clear, you can get into the sheepfold some other way. You can climb up. But when you’re inside you’re a thief and a robber. The blessings you are trying to enjoy are stolen blessings, you don’t qualify.
I don’t want to be unkind or uncharitable but let me say that I think one clear example of this is much of the teaching of what is known as “unity” which teaches about love, joy, peace and fulfillment, satisfaction; that you climb up by your own mental speculative, religious efforts. You bypass the nasty fact of sin, that Jesus had to die for your sin, that you were a criminal condemned to death and Jesus took your place. With all your elegant abilities and intellectual qualities you were just headed for hell until Jesus died for you. So there we are, that’s the qualification for membership. There are those inside who haven’t fulfilled the qualifications. There always will be, I’m sure, until Jesus comes.
Let me say one thing: Make sure you’re not one of them. Make sure that you’ve had a personal encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ. You can walk up to the front of the church, shake the pastor by the hand, get baptized either by sprinkling or immersion, and the only difference may be you’re just sprinkled or a baptized sinner. You can go through any religious ritual and it will not necessarily change your life. But when you meet Jesus, you change. No one has ever met Jesus and stayed the same. You may not have the religious terminology but you’ve got the experience. He is the door. There is no other way in. Don’t try to get around him. Just come to him. He’s waiting. He’ll welcome you. Sinners Jesus will receive, the song says. All who wander, all who strain. His critics said this man receiveth sinners and eateth with them. I think that’s a good criticism. I’m glad it’s true. He receives sinners. He’s not looking for religious people, he’s welcoming sinners. If you’ve never come by that door, you better do so. “Straight is the gate, and narrow is the way which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” You’ll never be in the majority as a Christian.
Now we’re going to go on to the picture of the assembly. We’re on Page 3 of your outline and we’re going to do the answers to the three questions. Remember, what purpose of God does it serve, what does it require in our relationship to God, what does it require in our relationship to one another. I point out here that there is one particular title in scripture which particularly described God’s people as the assembly, and the title is Zion. Almost every time you read the word Zion, you want to think of God’s people met as an assembly in divine order under divine authority.
I’d like to take you now at the beginning of this to Hebrews 12 once more. Hebrews 12, beginning at verse 22.
“But ye are come [you have come, it’s all finished, you’ve arrived.] unto Mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn, who are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaketh better things than that of Abel.”
That is the most tremendous list of persons and things. We will just look at three groups of people that are met in Zion. The first group it mentions at the end of verse 22. What does it say there? An innumerable company of what kind of person? Angels. Secondly, verse 23, the general assembly and church of the firstborn, who are enrolled in heaven. Now we’ve got to get our words straight. Where the King James says “church,” the Greek word is ekklesia: assembly. Where it says “assembly,” the Greek word is a very rare word, I don’t think it’s used anywhere else in the New Testament, the Greek word is ?panegurous?. It’s a word that’s hard to translate. It means a very resplendent—the word that comes to my mind is parade. It’s like a commanding officer’s inspection. If you’ve ever been in the military in any form, when the president comes, everybody lines up in rank, in uniform, in order: the captains, the colonels, the generals, the commander-in-chief, they’re all there. There is music and there are bands and there’s speeches and the parade. That’s the Greek word ?panegurous?. It describes that kind of gathering. It’s a very powerful word. So we’re talking about a very solemn, well ordered, authoritative gathering in which are included the church of the firstborn, those who are born again, whose names are enrolled in heaven.
You’ve doubtless heard the old chorus, “Is your name written there on that page white and fair?” That’s a very, very important question. Is your name written there? I believe mine is. I believe it was written there on a certain night in July l941 when I met Jesus. Before that I’d been religious and a church member but my name had never been registered in heaven. You can have your name on the books of any church on earth and yet not have your name in that book. This is the record of all who are born again through faith in Jesus Christ. It’s the assembly of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Then the third group of people mentioned there at the end of verse 23, the spirits of just men made perfect. Where many commentators believe, and I believe myself, this refers to the saints of the Old Testament, believers who made their way by a gradual lifetime walk of faith, step by step down into death and up again after the resurrection of Jesus Christ into the place that Jesus has prepared for them. Men who were made perfect through a lifetime walk with God.
So, if we’re talking about the assembly, it’s not restricted merely to what we call the church of born again believers. But in the assembly are the angels, the Old Testament believers and the born again believers of all ages. It’s a very solemn gathering that spans earth and heaven, time and eternity. That’s where we are when we are in the assembly. It’s Mount Zion.
Let’s look in Psalm 110 and see the authority that’s in the assembly of the Lord. Psalm 110:1–2, which are the most quoted verses from the Old Testament in the New.
“The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool.”
This is interpreted for us in the New Testament. “The Lord” is God the Father. “My Lord” is David’s greater son, the Lord Jesus Christ. God the Father says to Jesus Christ the Son, “Sit at my right hand.” This is after his death and resurrection. He’s ascended, he’s taken his place at the Father’s right hand, he’s in the glory. All authority in heaven and in earth has been given unto him. He’s sitting at God’s right hand until God makes his enemies his footstool. That’s where Jesus Christ is now. He is exalted far above all principalities and powers, his name is above every name that is named, all authority in heaven and on earth has been given unto him.
Now let’s see how it’s exercised. Verse 2:
“The Lord shall send the rod of thy strength out of Zion: rule thou in the midst of thine enemies.”
It’s most important for us to know that that’s what Jesus is doing today. He is ruling in the midst of his enemies. Sometimes we become so conscious of the enemies that we forget that Christ is already ruling. His enemies have not all been subdued, but he is ruling. He is supreme. And he rules out of Zion. I believe the picture is this: God’s people meet in divine assembly, divine order and the divine authority. And the Lord, the Spirit, through their prayers, through their testimony, through that which goes out of their midst; henceforth the rod [which is the emblem of the ruler] of the strength of the Lord Jesus Christ.
It’s important to see this, let me say it again. God the Father says to God the Son, “Sit at my right hand. All authority is yours. From now on, you’re ruling.” But his rule is exercised by the Spirit out of Zion, the assembly. The authority of the Lord is sent forth and it’s in the name of the Lord which is on his rod.
Under the Old Covenant, every prince of every tribe had a rod which was the emblem of his authority on which was engraved his name. So the rod is Christ’s authority. His name is on it, the Holy Spirit sends that rod out of Zion, the assembly of God’s people. And with it he rules now in the midst of his enemies. Do you understand that? Christ is now ruling but he’s not ruling direct, his rod goes out of his assembly by the Holy Spirit. In other words, Christ’s rule is made effective when we in the assembly take our rightful place, recognize our responsibilities and authority, and exercise it on behalf of Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. This is a most critical verse.
Most Christians will accept the fact that Jesus is going to rule one day but what matters is to know that Jesus is ruling now. When you really grasp that fact it’ll change the way you live.
Then you need to know how is he ruling. The answer is through us. We are his assembly. We are his governmental body. It’s out of us that go forth the decrees that determine the destiny of kings and nations and people. That’s why I wanted to emphasize right from the beginning the assembly is the governmental body. God’s government of the universe is vested in us.
Paul said to the Corinthians church, “How come that you’re going through a secular court of law to have your own disputes settled? Shame on you. Don’t you know that you’re going to rule angels? You can’t settle your own little squabbles, you have to go to a secular court. You don’t realize you’re going to judge angels. Angels are going to bring their causes to you for judgment.” They were like many Christians today. They were living right down in the dark occupied with their petty little jealousies and squabbles. They didn’t realize that they were God’s ruling body. How important it is. I don’t believe the age can close the way God wants it to close until we grasp this because he is going to demonstrate his authority through us.
The picture of the rod always grips me. I can talk on it almost endlessly. When God sent Moses back to Egypt to deliver his people, Moses said, “I’ve got nothing to go with.” God said, “Nothing? What’s that in your hand?” Moses said, “Just a rod.” God said, “Throw it down.” What happened to it? It became a snake. Moses fled from his own rod. He didn’t realize what he had in his hand. How true that is of most Christians. We don’t realize what we have in our hands. God said, “Now pick it up by the tail”—which is not the way to pick a snake up. When he picked it up again it became a rod. He said, “That’s all you need, go.” And that was all he needed. When Moses marched into Egypt with his rod, he took over the government of Egypt. Pharaoh was the secular king but Moses determined the destiny of the nation. When he stretched his rod out, things happened. And they happened on time, too. He said the frogs are coming. They came. He said the water is going to turn to blood. It turned to blood. That was authority. It was vested in a simple little shepherd’s rod.
You and I should be like that. When the rod of Christ’s authority goes out of the assembly, kings are deposed, governments are overturned, wars are won and lost, economic pressures are released or increased. Who determines that? We do. And you see, the final deliverance of God’s people out of Egypt could not take place before Moses learned to use his rod. I’m convinced the completion of the destiny of God’s people will not take place until we learn to use the rod. Until we learn what it is to be the assembly. The governing body of God—not in the next age but right now.
What’s the other scripture there? Let’s look in Matthew for a moment. I always get hung up on this point and I never get through. Matthew 18. This is probably the really important point. After all, you have your outline, you can go home with that. Matthew 18, this is the only other place in the gospels where Jesus speaks about the church. Beginning at verse 15 and reading through verse 17, he describes the procedure that is to be followed when your brother offends against you. He says what? Publish it in the newspapers? Declare it over television? No. It says go and tell him alone. Don’t make a big issue out of it. Find him alone. If he won’t listen to you, take with you two other witnesses. Go again. If he won’t listen to them, do what? Tell it to the church, the assembly, the judicial governing body. Now listen, if he will not hear the church, what? Let him be as a heathen man and a publican. In other words, the Christian who does not bow to the decision of the assembly forfeits his right to be a Christian. He is no longer to be treated as a Christian.
That frightens me. First of all, I don’t want to be in that position. Secondly, what frightens me is the authority that’s vested in us and how little qualified we are to exercise it. It’s frightening. It really is frightening. No wonder Paul said, “You mean you can’t settle your own little squabbles? You’re supposed to be governing the world?”
Then Jesus makes three statements in relation to the word assembly, would you notice that.
“Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: whatsoever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say unto you, that if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”
What more authority do you need than that? Whatever you bind on earth is bound in heaven. Whatever you loose on earth is loosed in heaven. If you agree touching anything you ask, it will be done. Notice the initiative is not with heaven, it’s with earth. When we agree on earth, heaven does it. When we bind on earth, it’s bound in heaven. When we loose on earth, it’s loosed in heaven.
I was over in Denmark earlier this year and I was with the pastor of the assembly in Copenhagen of which my wife and I are members and missionaries. He’s a young man with real promise and real vision. He was sharing with me some of the things they had been going through—this problem is acute now in Scandinavia which we’re so familiar with in America which is the problem of divorced people wanting to remarry. It’s comparatively new in Europe. Until the last few decades it was almost unheard of. And he had been faced with the question of would he remarry persons who had been divorced and so on. It’s a very, very critical issue and one about which people feel very strongly. He had refused to marry one couple and then he consented to marry another couple. He was being somewhat criticized for it. He wasn’t sure if he was doing the right thing so he had a day where he wasn’t occupied and he took it off to seek the Lord on this issue. He described to me the conversation that he had with the Lord which I will report to you as accurately as I can. It illustrates this point. He said, “Lord, why didn’t you make it clear in the New Testament what your standards are for marriage and divorce and remarriage?” He said the Lord answered him and said, “If I’d given you a set of rules, you’d have just used them legalistically to bring people into bondage and you would have shown no mercy.” So, he got that one straight.
Now he said, “Lord, here am I with this problem and I don’t know what to do. I don’t know whether I’m doing the right thing or not. But Lord, if you’ll just show me what you would do, I’ll do that.” The Lord said, “On the contrary. If you’ll decide what you will do, I’ll do that.” That’s exactly what it says. Whatever you bind, I’ll bind. Whatever you loose, I’ll loose. If you agree, I’ll do it.
See, God has placed the responsibility on us. We’re the assembly. He says you make the decree, I’ll enforce them. You make the decisions, I’ll see they’re carried out. This is so totally different from the way we think. This is why I’m dwelling on the theme assembly. Whatever you bind on earth is bound in heaven. Whatever you loose is loosed. If you agree, it’s done. Why? Because you’re God’s assembly. You are his governing agent in the universe.
Now then, what’s required in us? The word we picked on was what? In our behavior? Order. Now, I do not have time to go into the passages here referred to but in the outline I state that in 1Corinthians 11, 12 and 14, Paul is viewing God’s people primarily as the assembly. Wherever you read the word “church,” I advise you to substitute the word “assembly.” Bear in mind an assembly is not always in session. A body is always functioning. As the body, they’re always functioning. But as the assembly, there are times when we are not met together. I don’t believe you’ll fully understand Paul’s statement—and they’re very controversial and many people object to them—unless you translate the word assembly. Paul says it is not permitted to your women to speak. Where? In the assembly. Government is not women’s business. Whether you like that or not, that’s a basic principle of scripture. I don’t want to be controversial about it. Paul isn’t saying women have got to walk around with their lips sewn up. That would have introduced the millennium! If Paul were talking about the body and he said it’s not permitted for women to speak, then women would have to be silent all the time. What Paul is saying is when you’re in the assembly, it’s a governmental body. Women have nothing to say in the assembly. If they want to know what’s going on and they didn’t understand, what does Paul tell them to do? Ask their husbands at home.
Then take this celebrated matter of women having their heads covered. Paul isn’t talking about the cottage prayer meeting. He isn’t talking about the church picnic. He’s talking about the assembly. He said in the assembly you better learn how to behave. Why? Let’s look at one saint in 1Corinthians 11:10. I’m only taking these as examples. I’m not trying to press these controversial points. I’m trying to explain the basis on which they’re said.
“For this cause ought the woman to have power [or authority] over her head because of [what’s the next word?] the angels.
Why does Paul say the angels? What meets in Zion? The angels, the church, the Old Testament believers. Paul says you better learn how to behave. You’re in a very solemn, august place. It’s like going to the White House. Or Buckingham Palace. You put on different clothes. You behave by different standards. Things that would be perfectly legitimate in other places are ruled out here because this is governmental. This is authoritative.
I don’t believe the church has begun to grasp it’s position or responsibility as the assembly. I think we betray it by the way we act. If we don’t show respect for God’s assembly, who will? Here I would have to say that I think in many cases the liturgical churches are in advance of the free churches in the matter of respect. How can the world respect the church that doesn’t respect itself? It never will.
I’ve been a Christian, I think I mentioned that, since 1941 which is 34 years and a little more. Only once in my life have I been in a gathering of believers that was like an assembly. Only once and it was in Sweden in 1947 in the Pentecostal Assembly Philadelphia in Stockholm. I went to a member’s meeting, no one else admitted, a card to get you in. I was invited, my name was on the card. The membership of the church at that time in 1947 was over 6,000. Its assembly seated about 4 or 5,000 persons. I walked in there and I looked at the platform and it so happened there were actually 24 elders sitting on the platform. When I looked at those men I felt a sense of fear. I mean, I was saved, baptized in the Spirit, a missionary. I thought, “Do I belong in this place? This is a holy place.” I really felt a sense of awe. I listened to them. They dealt with the disciplines. Christians that weren’t walking right, reports were brought, people had been sent to their homes, visited. The church determined what should be done. It was very, very impressive. Never anywhere in America have I seen anything like that.
Today, I’m afraid, the situation is not like that in that church any longer. I’ll tell you the reason. They tolerated sin. I happen to know the situation. I’ve got to be very careful what I say because tapes get around the world. But I know firsthand what took place. Sin was tolerated in the leadership and the glory has departed. Some people would be bitterly resentful of me saying that but I say it out of admiration and respect for that congregation.
Can you feel the atmosphere is different in here right now? We’re touching something that most Christians never open their minds to. It’s this whole question of government and authority. Until we acknowledge and submit to authority, we will not have governmental power. That’s in my personal opinion, that’s what this whole blowup is about. It’s about the question of reestablishing authority amongst God’s people. That’s exactly the issue that’s before us. I venture to predict no one will escape the issue.
I don’t see opposition in terms of human beings, I see the purposes of God. I went through the whole deliverance hassle. I was probably one of the most notorious ministers of deliverance in this nation. If I had tried to make that issue nationwide, I could have labored in vain for 50 years, but the opposition did it in 5. Exactly the same is happening about the question of submission and authority. God wants that issue brought before the body of Christ. And it’s coming. And there’ll be no neutrality. Every one of us is going to have to make up our mind whether we submit to and recognize divine authority in human beings. Anybody can recognize God when he’s far away, as long as he stays that far away. But that isn’t the way God runs his church. The issue is not just to impose some person’s authority, the issue is to get the assembly functioning so that it can do its job which is? Rule the world.
It’ll be too easy to rule the world when Jesus sits on the throne in Jerusalem. But it’s exciting to do it now. That’s the challenge. Unfortunately, so much fundamentalist teaching has put this all off to the future. I believe it’s all in the future but I believe it’s here and now.
Just one further thought and we’re not really doing badly on time. I would suggest that you read through those chapters in Corinthians. That’s 11, 12 and 14. And always use the word assembly. I think you’ll see how much sense it makes. For instance, in chapter 11 Paul says, “When you all come together into one place, this is not to take the Lord’s supper.” Why not? “Because you’re all out of order. One’s drunk, another is hungry, one grabs food before another.” He says, “Are you shaming the assembly of God? Don’t you know what’s required in an assembly?” I think he would say much the same to many of us. Do you think that Jesus comes to all meetings of the Church Board? No, I don’t. I think he’s too much of a gentleman! Do you think that the Church Board is supposed to be governing the body that’s governing the universe? Well, come on Brother Prince, you’d better be careful. I’m not making fun of anybody, I’m not criticizing anybody because it relates to me. I’m, you know, if nobody else wants to do it, I want to do it. That’s my attitude. Not for the sake of whether I impress people or not but because I believe this is the divine issue. This is where it’s at.
The final thing that we need to point out is that in the assembly—and this is very important—it functions only when we recognize each other’s charisma. What has God made you? What has God made me? What’s my office? What’s my function? Let’s look in 1Thessalonians for a moment. Chapter 5, verses 12–13.
“We beseech you, brethren, to know them which labor among you and are over you in the Lord, and admonish [or correct] you.”
The word “know,” you understand, that’s what I would translate “recognize.” Recognize those whom God has placed over you in the Lord. See, spiritual authority can only operate by voluntary recognition. Spiritual authority cannot be imposed, it must be submitted to. That’s why the key word is submission. Without submission there is no spiritual authority. But Paul says, “We beseech you, brethren, recognize those who are among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you.” Then he says get angry with them. No. He says:
“Esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake...”
What was their work? Admonishing you, straightening you out, correcting you. Telling you when you were doing the wrong thing.
It takes a friend to do that, you know? I often regret that I haven’t been friendly enough with some people. I mean that. I’ve let them go their own way. It’s a weakness in my nature. I’m detached. I say you do you thing, I’ll do mine. You’re on the brink of a precipice but there’s no law against it, just stay there. Slide down. It’s not right. I’m not a person who gets over-involved in other people’s lives. My problem is getting under-involved. When God thrust me into this thing, believe me, it had to be divine compulsion. I’m happy on my own. I can walk through the woods here hour by hour and not miss anybody. It may not sound good, but that’s the way it is.
There’s nothing more frightening than having somebody say “I accept your authority.” I tell you, there’s two things that get me straightened out at the moment. One is the people who look to me for leadership and the other are the people who criticize me. Between them I’m straightened out from every angle! I’m much more concerned about those who look to me for leadership than those who point out my mistakes. The ones who look to me for leadership place a tremendous solemn responsibility on me.
Let’s look in one other scripture. 1Peter 4:10–11. This will be our last scripture. This is just again on the theme of recognition.
“As every man has received the gift...”
But the Greek says “a” gift, charisma. Every person has a charisma. So minister out of your charisma, whatever your charismais, minister on that basis to one another. If it’s speaking, if it’s serving, whatever it is. And so, what we need to do is to be sensitive to charisma.
In my opinion, leadership is a charisma. It’s something that God places upon a person by the Holy Spirit for a purpose. In Fort Lauderdale, in our particular congregation, there’s one thing about which we’ve always been unanimous. We have seven elders. There’s one thing we’re entirely unanimous about. God placed the charisma of leadership on Bob Mumford. We have never doubted that. The last person to be convinced was Bob Mumford. He was reluctant. It could change. God forbid that it should. But God could place that charisma on me. But when it’s there, it’s very recognizable. We would sit around in a ring and wait for something to happen. After five minutes of silence Bob would start to do something. That is just a fact. God placed the charisma of leadership on him.
God can place a charisma of service on you. If any man serve, it says, let him do it as by the strength that God supplies. We could preach a sermon on service but this is not the time. One of the great missing ingredients in Christian life today is serving others. I’ve learned that if I don’t let people serve me in the right context of the situation, I’m denying them a privilege. Again, it doesn’t suit me. I don’t need them. I can manage on my own. But I’ve learned that that’s the way to train a ruler, is bring up a servant. It’s a charisma. We’ve got to be much more sensitive to the charismathat’s on our brother or our sister. Recognize the office, the function, the place in the assembly. God bless you, see you tomorrow or in the millennium.