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Lord, we commit this meeting now unto your hand, acknowledge our dependence upon you. We ask you to guide us and direct us by your Holy Spirit. We thank you you sent him to us to be our guide and our teacher, to lead us into all truth. Keep us from all error and apply the truth in a very real and practical way to each one of our lives. Let it be an instrument to mold us and to shape us, to make us what you would have us to be for your glory. In the name of Jesus, Amen.
This is the second in a series of studies on the theme “Seven Pictures of God’s People” taken from Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians. Our material is pretty condensed, we do not have time to do much in the way of review. But, if you will open to Page 2 of your study outline we will very quickly just review the seven successive pictures. I would ask you just to prove to me you’re really here in spirit as well as in body by repeating each picture after me. As I say number one, you say so and so, and so on. Are you ready?
Number one, assembly.
Number two, body.
Number three, workmanship.
Number four, family.
Number five, temple.
Number six, bride.
Number seven, army.
How many of you can do it without looking at the outline? Shall we try? Number one, assembly. Number two, body. Number three, workmanship. Number four, family. Number five, temple. Number six, bride. Number seven, army. Okay.
Now in each case we’re looking at three questions as a basis for our study. The first question: What purpose of God does it serve? Second: What does it require in our attitude or conduct toward God? Thirdly: What does it require in our attitude or relationship to each other. We’ve already given answers to these three questions in respect of the assembly. What purpose of God does it serve? What does it express or manifest of God? His government or his authority.
What is required of us in respect of our conduct? What is the key word? Order. Let all things be done decently and in order.
And what obligation does it place upon us toward one another? Recognition. We have to recognize each person’s function and authority in the ministry that God has given them.
Now we’re going on quickly to the second picture which is found also in Ephesians 1, the last verse of the chapter just in case you want the scripture for it. Ephesians 1:22 says:
“...the assembly [verse 23 says] which is his body...”
Let’s ask ourselves those questions in relationship to the body. There are many possible answers. I’m going to offer you one but that doesn’t mean that I disqualify a different one which you might offer me. The body serves as God’s what? We’re talking about the collective body related to the head which is Jesus Christ. His what? His arms, his service. That’s all good. Extension is good. Incarnation. All that is good to the point. I’ll tell you the phrase somebody gave to me this morning. Either instrument or agent. In essence, the body is Christ’s agent. This is most important. Whatever he’s going to do in the earth redemptively, in the fulfillment of redemption, he’s going to do through his body. As his body, we set the limits to what he can do. He cannot do more than his body will permit him to. This is a very remarkable fact.
What does it require in our relationship toward him, Christ the head, being more specific? Obedience will always do for every one. To try to be a little more specific, submission is good. You see, these words will come out every time. Willingness? That’s getting very close to what I have. Reverence, that’s a little further away, but it’s good enough. Service is good. I’ll tell you the word I have which you wouldn’t think of unless you’re... Availability is the word I have. The members have to be available to the head. That’s the thing he needs. No matter how strong and useful my arm is, it’s no good to the head unless it will be available to the head to do what the head wants. Likewise with my feet or any other part of my body.
Somebody said the only kind of ability that God looks for in a man is availability.
Then in our relationship toward one another I think there’s one word which I believe is the right one here. Cooperation is essentially right. I’ve just put that another way. Love will always do. How is love going to express itself in this relationship? Coordination is excellent. That’s just as good as I’ve got. My word was interdependent. I think the essence of the teaching along this line is every member needs all the other members. I think this needs to be emphasized at this particular point as strongly as it ever has been. None of us is independent. We are interdependent, we need one another, we cannot do without one another.
Let’s take some scriptures and go through this not too quickly but without delay. Hebrews 10:5–7 which is a prophecy of the Messiah coming to the world taken from the book of Psalms. Just read it and I think you’ll pick out the key thought that I have in mind. Hebrews 10:5-7:
“Wherefore he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not...”
In other words, religious ceremonies is not what I want.
“...but a body hast thou prepared me: in burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hast had no pleasure. Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God.”
Why did he need a body? To do God’s will. Why does Christ need a body? To do his will. The body is the agent to carry out his will.
Now let’s look, first of all, at the relationship between Christ who is the head of the body and us who are the members. Then we’ll look at the relationship of one member to another. Dealing first of all with the relationship of Christ as the head. Turn to 1Corinthians 12:21, just the second half of this verse. We’ll come back to this passage in greater detail later on. Here is a very remarkable statement.
“The eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you.”
Who is the head? Christ. And he cannot say to the feet, I have no need of you. This is very remarkable. If the head is to get where he wants to go, what’s going to carry him there? The feet. So, the head is dependent upon the feet. What does the head require of the feet? That they be available to him to carry out his decisions. Likewise with the hand or any other part of the body. So, the head is dependent upon us. He requires our availability. No matter how strong or capable or gifted I may be as a Christian, if I’m not available to the head I’m useless to him.
And then there’s a rather beautiful picture, I think, partly prophetic which I’d just like to draw your attention to, carrying out this analogy of the relationship between the head and the feet. Going back to Genesis 3, the first prophecy of scripture somebody has described it as. Verses 14–15. After the fall the Lord pronounced judgment on those who were involved, and the first judgment was on Satan the serpent. And we read in Genesis 3:14:
“The Lord God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life.”
It’s interesting to notice that man’s physical frame was made out of dust and after the fall dust became the serpent’s legitimate food. In other words, the devil is given liberty to feed on our carnal nature. And then he goes on to say:
“And I will put enmity between thee [the devil] and the woman...”
Do you believe that? Do you believe the devil has a special enmity against women? I do, yes. It’s true. If there had never been any women there never could have been any redeemer. Christ could have come into the world without a man but not without a woman. And from that moment onwards, the devil was set against the female sex.
It’s a very interesting thing. I have traveled and lived in many lands. Basically, the only countries where women get a fair deal and are treated with respect and honor is countries where the Bible is honored. The Bible is the book that lifts women. You can go to any country where the Bible is not respected, basically, women are downtrodden, oppressed and dishonored. That’s the devil’s attitude toward them. It’s the word of God that liberates them and lifts them.
We haven’t finished the prophecy.
“...I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed [the devil’s seed] and her seed...”
“Her seed” being who? Jesus Christ. The seed of the woman, not of the man you understand.
“...and it [the seed of the woman] shall bruise thy head [the head of the serpent], and thou shalt bruise his heel.”
The point of contact between the Messiah and the serpent is the head of the serpent and the heel of the Messiah. The heel of Christ will bruise the head of the serpent. When you crush a serpent’s head you don’t use your hands to do that. You stamp on it with your foot. And in doing, the heel is bruised as well as the head of the serpent.
Then we turn to Romans 16 and we see that Paul takes this very metaphor there. Romans 16:20, just one simple, brief statement out of the closing verses of this epistle.
“The God of peace shall bruise [or crush] Satan under your feet shortly...”
Under whose feet? Our feet. Not under the head but under the feet. What will Christ use to destroy Satan’s power? His people, his body. The lowest will be the part that will trample Satan under.
In a sense, this was prophetically fulfilled, I think. Paul was writing to the church at Rome. Rome was the capitol of the most powerful empire the world had ever seen. Within three centuries, the church had bruised the head of that serpent and become the ruling force in the ancient world. But I don’t believe that’s the final fulfillment. I believe, actually, that right at the close of this age a final defeat will be administered to Satan by the heel of the body, the lowest and the last. And when the body takes off for the rapture, I think its spring-off point will be Satan’s head. I really believe that there’s a deep truth in that. The head cannot say to the feet, I have no need of you. The feet are the part that will be used to administer the final victory of Christ. I think we’re very near that time.
Now we cannot dwell on this. We want to go now to the relationship between the members. I want to deal with a very practical question which I cannot take very much time over. The essence of it is how you as a member can find your right place and function in the body. There is nothing more important for you as a Christian, once you have come to know the Lord Jesus, given your life to him, there is nothing more important than finding your correct place and function in the body. I’d like to turn now to Romans 12 and just read 6 verses there which, I believe, contain the key. Because, as a Christian, you will never really be fully satisfied until you are in the place and fulfilling the function that God has appointed for you. And I meet today thousands of Christians who manifestly have not found their place and function. They’re saved, they belong to the Lord. In many cases they’re eager to serve him but they don’t know their place.
If you’re in the wrong place, the result is continual frustration. As I’ve said, my hand has no problem operating as a hand. I don’t have to reason it out, I don’t have to think about it, it doesn’t sweat, it doesn’t take a lot of energy. But if I try to do with my hand what my foot does, I’d have continual problems. And if you’re having problems all along in your Christian life, it’s pretty good evidence that you’re not in your right place fulfilling your God appointed function. You may be a toe trying to behave like a finger. No matter how much effort you put in, it’ll never work.
So how do you come to your right place? We could make a study of this that would last a week but I just want to give you some key thoughts which you can develop for yourself, if you will. Going to Romans 12 and reading the first 6 verses. I’ll read quickly and then briefly expound them.
“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. Be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God has dealt to every man the measure of faith. For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office [or function]: so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith...”
We don’t need to read on, other gifts are mentioned by way of example afterwards. You see that the essence of Paul is talking about is finding your place as a member in the body, fulfilling your office or your function. In my outline there I have seven steps. The first one is present your body. Settle the question of your body’s ownership. Who owns your body? If you do, the Lord doesn’t. If the Lord does, you don’t. Have you ever really presented your body to the Lord, renounced your claim of ownership over your body? Paul says “as a living sacrifice”. Why does he say “living”? Because he’s contrasting it with the sacrifices of the Old Covenant whereby the body of the beast that was offered was killed and placed on the altar. Once it was placed on the altar it no longer belonged to the person who offered it. Paul says you offer your body in exactly the same way. Just as definitely, just as finally, but there’s one difference. You don’t kill it. It’s a living sacrifice.
In Matthew 19 Jesus says it isn’t the gift that sanctified the altar, it’s the altar that sanctifies the gift. So when is your body sanctified? When is it made holy? When it’s offered on the altar of God’s service. When it’s made available to God, contact with the altar makes the body holy. So the first step is present your body.
See, this question of ownership is very vital. Actually, legally, Christ already has the ownership of your body because he’s redeemed you by his precious blood. The scripture says therefore glorify God in your body which is God’s. But he’s not going to assert that ownership unless you willingly acknowledge it.
There’s a lot of difference between renting property and owning it. If I rent an apartment or a house, the landlord is responsible for maintenance. I just live there. But if I buy it and own it, I become responsible for the maintenance. If God owns your body, he’s responsible for the maintenance. But if he’s just a tenant, you’re still responsible. So it’s a very deep, far reaching question for you to resolve. Who owns your body?
Paul says in the light of all that God has done for you—and it’s all unfolded in the first 11 chapters of Romans—in the light of God’s total provision, there’s only one logical response. Our reasonable service which is what? Present our body.
When you present your body, the thing that happens is that you are renewed in your mind. You begin to think differently. Natural, unregenerate or unrenewed man is self-centered. Bob Mumford once used the phrase “he’s shut up in his little ego box”. Everything that happens and everything he does, he refers to himself. What will this do for me? What will I get out of this? Will I enjoy this? Will this promote me? We cannot find God’s will until our whole way of thinking has been changed. The Bible says what about the carnal mind? Romans 8:7, the carnal mind is what? Enmity with God. God will not reveal his will to his enemy. It’s unreasonable to ask him.
So, you present your body. Your way of thinking is changed. You begin to see things from God’s viewpoint, God’s purpose and not your own selfish ends and motives. Your mind is renewed.
As your mind is renewed, the third thing that happens is you prove the will of God. To prove means, I believe, to find out in experience. You begin to really enter into God’s will for your life. I believe it’s an unfolding, I don’t believe it comes in one single revelation. The further you go in the will of God, the better it gets. It’s good, acceptable, and finally it’s perfect. Perfect in the sense you couldn’t want anything better and perfect in the sense it comprehends every detail of your life. But it’s only the renewed mind that finds the will of God. Many, many Christians stumble and grope through life never really finding God’s will because they’ve never been renewed in God’s mind.
As you begin to find God’s will, you’re beginning to come into your place in the body which is directly related to the will and purpose of God. The next thing that happens is you have to humble yourself. Paul says, “I say through the grace given unto me, and to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think.” The first day you report for duty at the bank, don’t walk into the president’s office and sit behind the desk because that’s not where you belong. Be happy if you start as the janitor. Jesus said when you’re invited to a wedding feast, don’t sit down at the top table because you’ll get embarrassed. A more honorable guest will come along and they’ll move you down. He said sit in the lowest room. Then there’s only one way you can go and that’s up. It’s very, very important. Don’t get big ideas about yourself. Paul says think soberly, be realistic. There’s nothing more sober minded in the world than the Holy Spirit. He’s realistic, he’s practical, he doesn’t go in for fantasy, he’s down to earth.
If a thing is not practical, in my judgment it is not spiritual. I continually run into people whose minds have been bemused by somebody laying hands on them and prophesying over them. “Brother, you’re going to have a great ministry of deliverance.” “Brother, the Lord’s calling you to be a prophet.” “The Lord has given you the ministry of intercession.” Worst of all, “The Lord’s given you the ministry of suffering.” And around you walk looking miserable in your ministry of suffering. I can’t tell you how many confused people I’ve met. They’re trying to be something because somebody prophesied it over them. It is legitimate at times for God to reveal something about our future through prophecy. But if a prophecy inflates you, it’s not from God. Think soberly. Start washing dishes.
Jesus said if anybody will be chief, let him be servants. The Greek says “slaves of all.” The way to promotion in the kingdom of God is service. We’ve got this all wrong. We send a man to seminary, educate him, inflate his mind. The Bible says knowledge puffeth up. And then he comes out and has no moral or spiritual or character preparation for the ministry at all. Jesus said three things. He said he that is faithful in least is faithful in much. Start with the little. Faithful in the unrighteous mammon [faithful in money] then you’ll be faithful in the spiritual riches. Faithful in another man, faithful in your own. Start serving somebody else. Be faithful in the small things. Be faithful of your money and God will commit to you the spiritual riches, the great things and that which is your own.
So Paul says be sober. Don’t set out to be an eye. Be content to be an eyelash. All right, we got over that one.
Then to your humble, renewed mind God reveals your place and function. You’re going to be a thumb. You’re going to be a knee. You’re going to be a forearm. You’re going to be a wrist. And when you get there, you make two wonderful discoveries. The first is God has given you the measure of faith that you need for the job you have to do. You see, God has given to each of us the measure of faith. The measure of faith for what? For the job we have to do. If you are always struggling for faith, it’s pretty sure evidence you’re not doing the right job. You look at somebody else and say, Oh, I wish I had her faith. Yeah, but you don’t have her job. You don’t need her faith. You need the faith to do the job that God has given you. God has guaranteed you that measure of faith. There’s a direct relationship between the faith you have and the job you have to do.
And then, finally it says “having then gifts.” ?Charismata?, isn’t that an exciting word? But you notice were gifts come? They don’t start, they end the list. Don’t pray for gifts, that’s my advice. The Bible says covet earnestly the best gifts. I know that. But you’ll get into trouble if you go around praying for gifts. You ask God to show you your place in the body and when you begin to function in that place, my experience is the gifts you need will begin to operate.
I illustrated this many times when I got thrust into the ministry of deliverance. God put me into a job he had appointed me to do. And I remember years back, 1964 when I first started, a woman came to me for help. I knew her husband, I knew her brother but I didn’t know much about her. I remember sitting in a hotel in Denver and the lady was there, my wife, her husband and brother. I sat beside her on the sofa and I looked at her and I said, “You need deliverance from” and I listed about ten demons. All the time I was saying it I thought how did I know that? But it was right. It was exactly right. I thought how did I know that? I thought it must be the word of knowledge. It was. But I didn’t go into a huddle and pray for the word of knowledge, I got into the ministry.
The other day in Jamaica I was dealing with a woman, she was of Catholic background, really earnest in seeking the Lord but I don’t think she knew him. As we were listening I began to tell her about her relationship with he husband. She looked at me and said, “How did you know that?” She said, “I didn’t tell you that.” And tears came to her eyes. Within a few minutes she was saved, delivered and baptized in the Holy Spirit. The word of knowledge had opened her whole being to what God wanted to do for her. But I didn’t sit there and calculate this, I was doing the job God wanted me to do. The word came.
So, if you will be guided by me, don’t look for gifts, look for your place. Find your job. Be down to earth, be practical, think soberly. Don’t begin as an apostle the first week because your second week will be full of problems if you do!
Now then, I want to deal with the other theme which I think is very important. The relationship between unity and diversity. I want to go to 1Corinthians 12. We’ve been there once just for a glimpse, but we’ll go back a little bit more now. And I’m going to go through from verse 12 through verse 26. I may not read them all in detail. There are really two major themes here. Unity and diversity. First of all, Paul established the great basic unity of the body. Then, out of that he unfolds the diversity. But logically, Paul always follows the order establishing unity first. Then out of unity diversity. It’s the same in Ephesians 4 where he talks about the ministry gifts. First of all, he establishes the seven basic unities of all Christians. Then he unfolds the diverse ministry gifts. But in the divine order we have unity first, then diversity. So in this chapter, Paul is talking about the body and its members and their function. In the first two verses of this passage he deals with the unity of the body, that is verses 12 and 13:
“For as the body is one, and has many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body [in Christ], so also is Christ. [This is the Prince translation] For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether we were bond or free; we were all to drink out of the one Spirit.”
You miss the point of 1Corinthians 12:13 unless you see the emphasis is on the word “one” which occurs three times. The baptism in the Holy Spirit is for the sake of the unity of the body. That’s from God’s point of view. From your point of view it may bless you, it may give you power, give you all sorts of wonderful experiences. But, viewed from the point of view of God’s purpose, it’s aim is to make effective the unity of the body.
So having established the unity of the body, Paul then goes on to diversity. Diversity is in two forms. Diversity of members: toes, thumbs, fingers, noses, ears, eyes, and diversity of functions: smelling, hearing, taste and so on. Paul deals with both kinds of diversity. Let’s just look at that rather rapidly. Verse 14:
“For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?”
It’s foolish for the foot to want to be the hand, but many Christians are like that. They see somebody else with a dramatic, spectacular or powerful ministry and they say I want to be a hand. But God made you a foot. The hand is out there in front waving in front of everybody’s eyes; the foot is right down on the floor with the shoes, it’s not nearly so dramatic. But what’s the good of trying to be a hand if God made you a foot? And then Paul goes on to say, verse 16:
“If the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would the smelling?”
Now we come on to the different functions: hearing, smelling, and so on, the various parts of the body. Some people just get wrapped up in evangelism. Paul says there’s evangelists, there’s teaching, there’s prophecy, there’s service. There’s many different functions. Don’t get your eye just on one function because if there were only one function in the body, the body couldn’t function. Verse 18, very important:
“But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him.”
Who decides where the members will go? God, that’s right. Not the members, but God.
“And if they were all one member, where were the body? But now are they many members, yet but one body. And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee.”
The eye: very discerning, very delicate, very refined but very weak. The eye can see the food on the table but it can’t get it to the mouth. What’s needed to do that? The hand. So none of us can say to any of the rest of us, “I don’t need you”. This is so important at the present time. We’ve already seen the example. The head cannot say to the feet, “I have no need of you.”
“Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary.”
What’s weaker, more delicate, more sensitive than the eye? And yet how valuable the eye is. So don’t despise the one who is weak or delicate. The more necessary, the more delicate, the more protection it needs. Have you ever stopped to think of the amount of protection the body gives to the eye? There’s the bone over here, the nose bone, the cheek bone, the eyelids, the eyelashes; there’s about five or six different things just protecting the eye. Suppose the eye were out and out individualists. “I don’t want to depend on the rest of the body, I’ll just hang out on the cheek.” It would be in continual trouble, wouldn’t it? Continually exposed to attack, continually in need of help. That’s the danger of being, you know, one of these individualists. “I don’t need anybody, I’m all right, I’ve got discernment, I see, I’m a visionary, I’m a prophet.” The more visionary you are, the more protection you need. The more careful you need to be to be in your right place in the body.
“And those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, upon these we bestow more abundant honor; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness. For our comely parts have no need: but God has tempered the body together, having given more abundant honor to that part which lacked...”
I think if we go back to the simple analogy of the human body, Paul is saying we’ve got some parts of the body which can stand to be exposed because they’re good to look at. There are other parts of the body that we cover up and we’re very careful to cover them up with things that are pretty and make them look nice. So Paul says whichever way you look at yourself, you’ve got no room for pride. You say God has covered me up with all sorts of beauty. Yes, you needed it! Or you can say here I am, I don’t need to be covered up. So God hasn’t covered you up, one way or the other.
And really, this is true when you think about it. The people that have got the most fantastic ministries are usually the weakest people. You know, the tremendous supernatural ministry is given to a man who tends not to have too much of intellectual or personal talent. We don’t need to labor this point, but if you think of most of the remarkable, supernatural ministries that God has raised up, they are putting more abundant honor on that part which lacked.
There’s a further principle. If you can do all right without the supernatural, why should God embarrass you with it? There’s so much to this.
We’re going on, verse 25. What was the purpose of God. We need to see this.
“There should be no schism...”
What’s that in modern English? Division in the body. Do we see at the moment no division in the body? Emphatically we cannot answer yes to that. Why do we see division? Because people have not grasped this principle that we need one another. It’s what I call the unbridled excessive individualism of American civilization. Our civilization has virtually been thrusting out the individual as the ultimate. And it doesn’t work. The body is not arranged that way. We Protestants have got to learn a new viewpoint. The Roman Catholics learn it much more quickly because it’s in their tradition. It’s the subjection of the individual to the group. The group is more important than the individual. As long as each one of us thinks I’m a hand, I don’t need anybody, I can just do whatever I like, watch me grasp; we’re going to have division in the body. This is where we have to be renewed in our mind.
I was for about six years associated as a minister with the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. Then I left Canada and came to the United States and so my association with the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada was terminated. Somebody said Brother Prince has become an independent preacher. I said no he has not. God forbid. I am a dependent preacher. I depend on God and I depend on the people of God. I cannot do without either. I may not always act that way but thank God at least I know it for a fact. I need God and I need his people. I cannot say to the hand, I don’t need you; to the foot, I don’t need you; to the nose, I can see, why should I smell? And every one of us has got to learn this lesson. I believe it’s crucial.
“Whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honored, all the members rejoice with it.”
Is that the way you feel? Somebody else gets promoted, do you rejoice? When somebody else’s church gets blessed and has a revival, do you rejoice? Or are you jealous? You see, another problem we face in our civilization is what I would call competitive training. We’re trained on the basis of competition. The whole essence of the American marking system is competition. It’s not merely in America. I grew up in Britain. The essence of my education was competition. Be number one. Pass your exams tops. Score more at cricket. Whatever it might be, I was always egged on by competition with other people. No matter what you say, that’s deeply ingrained in most of us. We cannot get adjusted to the fact that in the body there is no competition. The right eye does not compete with the left. The hand does not compete with the foot.
The basic motivation of most churches in most cities is a kind of competition. Let’s go out, get more members, have a bigger choir, whatever it may be. There is no real concept they are different members of one body functioning together to achieve a single purpose which is the purpose of the head. So this grasp of the body is crucial to many things that we are experiencing today.
Let me just go one step further and talk about the interrelationship of the members which is a tremendous subject, one that I’m deeply interested in. Ephesians 4:16. You’ll notice verse 15 ends:
“...from the head, which is Christ: from whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.”
Notice there the emphasis is on joints. Joined together and the needs are supplied by that which every joint supplies. Now as I understand it, the joints are the interrelationships between the various members. My relationship with you is my joint with you. Our needs are supplied through the joints. We don’t get our needs basically direct from the head. We get them through our relationships. So the head may have made full provision for every need of every member. The members will not have their needs supplied unless they’re rightly related to the other members. This is the essence of the situation in the body today. It’s through the joints that the supply comes.
Now a joint is where, let us say, three bones meet like my elbow. There are two bones in the forearm, one in the upper arm. That makes a joint that we call the elbow. Those joints have to be very carefully prepared, they have to be fitted together and they’re going to endure tremendous strain. I can pick up something very heavy with my right arm, but as I do so there’s going to be the most tremendous strain imposed on the place where those three bones meet.
What holds them together? Faith? No, there’s a ligament isn’t there? Let’s look in Colossians 2:19 which is again a similar picture of the body.
“Not holding the Head...”
That’s why they got into trouble, because they didn’t hold the head. But we’re talking about holding the Head:
“...from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered...”
Notice the nourishment comes through what? The joints and the bands. The modern translations use the word ligaments. See, both the supply and the nourishment come through the joints. It’s no good saying I’ll get everything I need from the Lord because the Lord hasn’t arranged the body that way. The Lord has arranged the body for you to get your need from your fellow member. The need and the nourishment are supplied through the joints.
What keeps the joints together? The ligaments. The ligaments have to be very, very strong, very effective. The joints are our interpersonal relationships; my relationship to you, yours to me makes us a joint.
What is the ligament? Now you can spend an hour answering this question. My answer is the ligament is committed covenant love. Love that’s committed to another like a man is committed to his wife, for better or worse, in sickness or in health. If I disagree with my wife’s doctrine, do I find another wife? Hopefully not. When a man’s committed to a woman by marriage, it’s in spite of disagreements, in spite of tension, in spite of problems. Any marriage that is only commitment while there is no tension or no problems will not last. What is needed is something that will hold the people together in spite of the tensions and the problems. What is the answer? It’s covenant commitment. Married love. That’s not emotion, that’s not sentiment, that’s not getting blessed in a meeting. That’s a deep, permanent, individual commitment. That’s what we need.
It’s very remarkable. It’s said about Jesus when he suffered on the cross that not one of his bones was broken. But it says they were all out of joint. You can study that in the scriptures. That’s, I think, just about how the body is today. God in his grace does not permit the bones to get broken but we’re all out of joint. What God is doing at the moment is getting them back into joint.
We don’t have time for more, we’re going to do the third picture quickly. Workmanship. If you want a scripture, let’s go back to it quickly. Ephesians 2:10:
“For we are his workmanship.”
I think the Jerusalem Bible uses “work of art.” I think another version says “masterpiece.” The Greek word is ?poiema? which gives us the English word poem. Its associations are artistic. It’s speaking about something in creative art. We are God’s creative masterpiece. God says, “If you really want to know what I can create, don’t look at the mountains and the seas, the birds and the flowers. Look at my people.” That’s pretty challenging, isn’t it? God says, “They are my masterpiece. I took the material from the trash heap but I’ve made it a creative masterpiece.”
With that thought, let’s ask ourselves these three questions. What does the masterpiece express of God? What particular aspects of God? His creation. Somebody said love, but that’s not really the appropriate word there. Handiwork is good. Likeness, not really, no. Well, his mind. What goes on in a person’s mind? His purpose or his? Let’s look in Ephesians 3:10.
“To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God.”
All creative genius of God. We’re the demonstration of what God can create. That word “manifold” in Greek is a compound word. ?Polupuekolos? which is hard to express in English. I was gripped by this thought once and I was trying to find a good word and I was in, I think, Atlanta Airport in the bookstore looking at the title of the novels. I noticed the novel which I have never read and I never intend to read. But it was called “Love is a Many Splendored Thing.” And that word “many splendored” attracted me. I thought that’s just about the best translation of this word. We are his many splendored masterpiece. We display innumerable aspects of his creative genius to the whole universe. That really is a humbling thought, isn’t it? God wants to say to the principalities and powers, “Do you want to know what I can do? Look at that. Do you want to know my wisdom?” Look at us. That really takes some faith to say that, doesn’t it? I mean, when we look at these pictures we see that God views things differently from us.
It presupposes towards God, if we’re going to be his masterpiece, what does an artist require in that from which he creates? Pliability is a good word. I’ve got another one which is almost the same. Yieldedness. But pliability and yieldedness are essentially the same.
What does it require towards each other? This is not so easy, I had to invent a word for this one. We’re not going to be a lot of individuals, we’re going to be one masterpiece. Okay? So what does that mean has got to happen between us. Blending is a beautiful word. I didn’t think about it. Cohesiveness is a good word too. The word I got—I think your words are probably better than mine. I invented the word mergeability. The ability to merge with others. Again you see we’re getting this same lesson. What I am individually is not the most important thing. It’s what I become together with you collectively that is the final product. Creative genius or many splendored wisdom. If you can get that all in in the space. Manifold wisdom is what it says in the King James.
We’ve got three questions, we’ve answered them all. It expresses God’s creative genius. It requires in us toward him pliability, yieldedness. And it requires in our relationships to each other cohesiveness or what I call mergeability. A willingness to lose our individual identity in a greater whole.
Now we’re going on. Let’s look at the outline there that follows. God’s manifold wisdom. We’ve already seen that. Ephesians 3:10, God’s going to demonstrate to the universe his manifold wisdom.
Now I chose to take two different types of creative masterpiece and, of course, there are many. I thought in terms of one that is molded and another that is written. When you talk about something that’s molded you can talk about something that’s molded out of clay or quite close to that, you can take something that’s chiseled out of stone as a sculptor does. When I was working with Elizabeth Sherrill on my wife’s book, I produced a book after two years of labor. She said, “Now go through it and take out about 20%!” If you haven’t worked 20 years on a book, you don’t know what that means. She quoted to me Michaelangelo, what he said about his statues. He said every stroke of the chisel reveals a little bit more of the plan. The more you cut away, the better your vision is revealed. I think of that many times. God goes on cutting and cutting and cutting. You say, “God, is there going to be anything left?” But every stroke of the chisel reveals more perfectly the master’s plan.
Let’s take in terms of something that’s molded out of clay as a very obvious example. Let’s look at what this requires in our attitude towards God. I’d like to turn to Isaiah 64. We’ll read from verse 6. God’s people are in a state of decline and almost hopelessness. Their confession is very dark and gloomy. Isaiah 64:6:
“But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is none that calleth upon thy name...”
In the midst of this tremendous depression and decline the prophet says:
But now, O Lord, thou art our Father [no matter how much we may have failed]; we are the clay, and thou our potter...”
We’re in your hand, it’s up to you to make out of us what you want.
And then in Jeremiah 18 we have another picture of the potter which is a very beautiful one. Jeremiah 18, reading just the first 6 verses.
“The word which came to Jeremiah from the Lord saying, Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will cause thee to hear my word. Then I went down to the potter’s house, and, behold, he wrought a work on the wheels. And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter: so he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make.
Who determines what the vessel will be like? The potter, that’s right. And if it’s marred, he remakes it.
“Then the word of the Lord came to me saying, O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter? saith the Lord. Behold, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are ye in mine hand, O house of Israel.”
Just the summer before this, I was in Israel with a group of people and we went to the potter’s house. They have one in Hebron. We watched him working with the moist clay and fashioning vessels on the wheel. This again became very vivid to me. I observed that whatever shape he wanted to produce in the vessel, he did it by pressure. Wherever he wanted the shape changed, he applied the pressure of the wheel. And then I observed that the Lord said, “This is how I’m dealing with the house of Israel.” And being in Israel at that particular point and knowing the country fairly well, I saw that that is exactly how God has been dealing with Israel since the nation came into being again in 1948. He’s been shaping and molding them by pressure. One kind of pressure after another. The pressure of the Arabs, the pressure of the Egyptians, the pressure of Kissinger, the pressure from Moscow, pressure from Washington D.C. No sooner are they free from one pressure then another pressure is brought to bear. But in all this God is shaping and molding a people, making them what he wants them to be. The pressure is just like the potter’s wheel spinning around, and he presses the vessel against the wheel where he wants to change the shape of the vessel.
I thought how like this is to the lives of all of us. When God wants to shape us and change us and mold us, what does he use? Pressure. Isn’t that right? We want to say, “God, I can’t stand the pressure any longer.” But he says, “I’m doing it all to make you not the way you want to be but the way I want you to be.” As it seems good to the potter. That, I believe, is something that all of us are going to experience that are in the Lord’s hand in the days that lie ahead. The pressures are going to grow more intense and more unexpected. The wheel is going to spin faster and faster. But as long as we stay in his hand and remain pliable, we’ll come out the kind of vessel that he wants us to be.
Then we can look also in Romans 9 which is one of the difficult chapters theologically of the Bible because it deals with God’s sovereign predestination which does not suit the contemporary American outlook very much. It says in essence, “God determines what he’ll make out of every piece of material.” And he determines whether he’ll make a garbage can or a flower vase. You don’t have any choice. It’s his decision. Paul talks about a vessel unto dishonor, something that’s unclean; or a vessel that’s to glory. And whether you like it or not, God determines what you’re going to be. This is, of course, not the whole truth. It has to be balanced by other truths, but it’s a very important part. Let’s look at Romans 9:20:
“Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God?”
You’ve never done that, I’m sure! You’ve never said, “Oh God, why? Why this pressure, why at this point. God, I was just beginning to relax and now everything has gone wrong again.” Are you trying to tell God what to do?
“Shall the thing formed say [the thing formed is you], to him that formed it [that’s God], Why hast thou made me thus?”
A lot of people have that problem. In Bill Gothard’s seminars on Basic Youth Conflicts, he’s got one example of a girl that had a deep inner problem. She couldn’t find real peace or release or satisfaction. Her problem was she was angry with God for making her too tall. It’s not, you know, it’s not unlike people.
I have met women that were angry with God for making them women. Do you know that? But you don’t have any last word in that matter. It’s not your choice. You don’t even have the last word in what your children will come out. You may wish for a boy but it will come out a girl.
“Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honor, and another to dishonor.”
Has he or has he not power? The answer is he has. You say, “I’m a beautiful flower vase.” That’s not your credit. It’s God’s decision. Paul says:
“What if God, willing to show his wrath...”
God uses some vessels to show his wrath on. Did you realize that? And the example that Paul uses in this chapter is pharaoh. God said to pharaoh, “Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up that I might show in thee my power.” God makes some vessels big, thick, strong and heavy so that when he drops them they fall with a bigger crash.
“What if God, willing to show his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction [prepared for the drop]: and that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had before prepared unto glory, even us, whom he hath called...”
What do you say when you discover you’re a vessel of glory? You say praise the Lord, it’s not my doing. It’s his choice. It’s not of him that willeth nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy. We need to get back to that truth. It’s not the whole truth, but it’s a very neglected part of the truth.
See, the essence of this particular picture is that in some respects we’re passive. The clay doesn’t give the orders. The clay doesn’t make the decisions. If this was the only picture of God’s people, it would be incomplete. But our understanding of what it is to be God’s people without this picture is also incomplete. And I feel modern America probably needs a much clearer vision of what it means to be clay in the hand of a potter.
Let’s look at just one last example of a masterpiece. We take this time something that’s written, expressed in words. It could be a poem but the example that I’ve taken is an epistle, a letter. The scripture is in 2Corinthians 3. We’ll read just the first 3 verses, we will not dwell on this. It’s just to point out one great central truth. Paul says to the Corinthian church which he had founded, which was the product of his ministry:
“Do we begin again to commend ourselves? Or need we, as some others, letters of commendation to you, or of commendation from you?”
Paul says, “Do I have to get a letter to come preach to you? You’re the ones that were brought forth by my ministry. I don’t need anybody to recommend me to you.” Then he said, “If there is any letters, you are our letter. Verse 2:
“Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men: forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared [publicly shown forth] to be the letter of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not on tablets of stone, but in fleshy tables of human heart.”
This to me is a tremendous challenge. Every time I read it it grips me. Paul says, “If anybody wants to know my theology, I’m not going to deliver a lecture. I’m not going to write a book. If you want to know what I believe, go to Corinth and look at the Christians there. That’s my theology.” This is a challenge. We ought to be able to show people what we believe by the lives we produce. And if we can’t, what we believe isn’t very important. When I think of what they were at Corinth, look at that for a moment. Keep your finger in 2Corinthians 3 and go back to 1 Corinthians 6, verse 9 and following:
“Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners...”
What an awful list. Pimps, prostitutes, homosexuals, effeminates, adulterers, fornicators...
“And such were some of you...”
And then he says, if anybody wants to know what I believe, go to Corinth. Look at the people that were produced by my message and my ministry. You are our letter read and acknowledged by the whole world. And that’s true. See, the world looks at the people we produce. Again, there’s a thought there. Paul didn’t say you are our letters. They were not 1500 individual letters. He said you are our letter. You collectively constitute our message. Each one of you is an individual letter of the alphabet. Only when you’re put in the right place and rightly related to the other letters do you make sense. Then you are my message.
This is, I believe, the challenge today to us. I think this is one of the reasons for the tremendous pressure and the tremendous demands of God that we get rightly related, submitted. Because God wants to be able to point to us and say that’s my message.
Francis Schaeffer who is a philosopher—and unlike me he’s a philosopher who has remained a philosopher. I was a philosopher and ceased to be a philosopher. The moment I met Jesus Christ, that was the end of my philosophy. But nevertheless, he has much to contribute. And he says somewhere in one of his writings something to this effect. “ At the end of this age, people won’t read your Bible. Much less will they take your silly little tract. But they’ll look at you and they’ll demand to see the word made flesh in you. That will convince them.” He also said, “The Lord has given the world the right to judge is we are his disciples.” By this shall all men know that ye are disciples if what? If you have love one for another. If the world sees us not loving one another, it has a God given right to say they are not Christ’s disciples. Isn’t that right?
We cannot argue. The Master has said this is it. This goes so far. What I produce is my epistle. As a minister, if I’m the pastor of a church, I don’t need a statement of fundamentals on the church wall. What I need is my people to live what I’ve preached. And if I’m a Christian father, I ought to be able to say you know what I believe? Look at my kids. And anything less than that is incomplete success.
I’m challenging myself just as much as I’m challenging you. I could say a lot of different things and I’m not really interested in getting involved in controversy. But I would say where the principles of discipleship are graciously and wisely applied, the results speak for themselves. You need a depth, a dedication, a loyalty and a willingness to serve that just don’t need to be argued about. I’m not interested in a man who points to a textbook and tells me what he believes. I say let me see it in you. You are our letter. Can you say that? Can I say that? Can we be that? Shall we go out of here bearing in mind that collectively we are God’s letter to the world? What he wants to say to the world he’s going to say in human letters of the alphabet put together to make readable things.
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