We resume in the letter to the Ephesians in chapter 3:8-9. Here we have set forth the fact of a superlative fulness in Christ, and the apostle Paul was called to minister in a peculiar way to bring that to light, to make all men see. Alongside of this runs the fact that it is the Divine purpose for the church to come to that superlative fulness. There is a ministry raised up and established in relation to that, in order that the church may attain to it.
Then a large part of this letter is occupied with making it clear that the church as a whole can only be what its individual members are, and what its ministers reveal. We are brought away from mere abstractions, something visionary, something mentally conceived or perceived in an objective way, and reminded that this Divine purpose requires that every individual member shall, in due measure, come to the superlative fulness, and that the church as a whole will only reach the Divine end as the members recognise that they are responsible individually for the Divine purpose and for the realisation of the church's calling.
If you read chapter four you will see the importance of that. The apostle speaks about the unsearchable riches of Christ, the nature of which is simply what we have been saying: the universality of God's full thought and intention for His new creation. You move through the Scriptures of the Old Testament, and you find that truth, that fact, set forth repeatedly in different connections. Israel was chosen for the purpose of occupying an elected sphere, and the governing thought about that twofold election is fulness - God chose them, and God chose the land for them.
It is a type of the church, chosen in Christ; Christ appointed by God (shall we say, eternally elected) as God's fulness, and a people chosen to occupy that fulness. When the land is described, it is always described in the terms of a land flowing with milk and honey. It is a great description of abundance and fulness; it is superlative. The people were chosen to occupy that chosen place.
So the unsearchable riches relate to Christ, and all that is in this letter points to the fact that we are chosen by God in Christ to come to that fulness, to the unsearchable riches. Paul was the great apostle of the unsearchable riches, hidden from all ages, hid in God, who created all things. That is the mystery, and his is the stewardship of that mystery, to bring out the things hid in God, the unsearchable riches of Christ, so that the church may enter into them.
The apostle tells us how we enter in. That is a matter of great practical interest at once. He tells us in this letter quite clearly that the first thing in entering into that place of the unsearchable riches, the fulness of Christ, is by way of apprehending the heavenly position of the church. It is in the heavenlies that we are blessed with every spiritual blessing. The fulness, the unsearchable riches, and everything in this letter, is in the heavenlies and that follows so closely upon what we were saying about the apostle himself.
The great feature and factor of Paul's revelation was the heavenliness of everything for which he left all that was earthly, even in the things of God or things related to God. It is the heavenliness of Paul's vision that governs. It is from that heavenly place that he has such triumph in all circumstances.
We must repeat this because it is impressive, because these letters, such as Ephesians, being written at the end, were written when that which had been brought about through the apostle's ministry was completely disintegrating. "All they in Asia be turned away from me" (2 Tim. 1:15). That is Ephesus. That is all the churches in Asia that came in through the apostle. Then, "This one has left me, and that one has left me"; not converts but fellow-workers, yoke-fellows, companions in the Gospel: "only Luke is with me", said he. With everything in a state of disintegration and breakdown so far as the earthly side is concerned, you find that the apostle is able to write with such exultation and freedom from depression, with constant references to the heavenlies: "...blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies"; "made us to sit with Him in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus". The secret of his own endurance and triumphant faith was that he understood that the earthly side of things was not that with which God was ultimately concerned. God was getting a heavenly thing.
There is an earthly side to us as the Lord's people, which is a very disappointing side - the side of failure, the side of weakness. But by what the Lord is doing with us, and in us, through the trials and adversities, it is as though He were taking up something all the time to heaven, accumulating some spiritual values in heaven. And eventually when all that which is of us which is going to pass does pass, that which has gone to heaven will constitute our new being, so to speak. It will be the constituents of the heavenly man that we shall be.
That may be a strange way of putting things, but it does seem like that, that something is being stored up in heaven all the time. I look around and look back and see the tragedy of certain things. I have had great blessing from the ministries of certain servants of God, who have now gone to glory. I have had great blessing in my time from the ministry of Dr. A. J. Gordon of Boston. His ministry was of great value in its time, and when the opportunity arose some years ago of being in Boston, I went at the first opportunity to Clarendon Church. What did I find? A church with Modernism in it. I looked around to see if there were any traces of his ministry, but I could see none. You may say, "That is a tragedy! Where is that ministry?" It is in heaven. I have had great help from the ministry of Pastor Stockmayer, and the opportunity came of going to Hauptville to sense the atmosphere of Otto Stockmayer and to breathe in something of it. What did I find? No trace of that ministry. I did not meet anyone at all living in the value of that ministry. Some knew him, but they were spiritually dead. It was all gone. Where is it? It is not on earth, it is in heaven. I do not mean merely that these people are in heaven, but that the value of the ministry is in heaven. We see all around the tragedy and the failure, and if we lived on that, we should despair. A thing grows, and when it is past what is there? It is stored up in heaven.
The apostle realised that even though there be a turning away from him it was not all loss; God has something in heaven which will not fade or pass away. He is building something in heaven. It is a heavenly Body. The earthly side may be very disappointing, but every test of faith and every triumph through a test sends something up to heaven which is preserved and which will be there eternally. Something is going up, constituting an eternal thing, making a spiritual testimony which will come back in the ages to come in a very real, concrete form. Nothing is lost that is of God or that God has ever done.
The apostle triumphed by that realisation, and it is the only way to triumph. We need to get the heavenly point of view. To enter into the unsearchable riches of God's full thought requires that we shall, in the first place, apprehend our heavenly position, the heavenly position of the church, and of course, that means the heavenly issue of the cross. The cross is not all tragedy, not all defeat, not all failure. The cross has a heavenly issue. The triumph and the fruit of the cross is seen there, not here. If we did but know it, we should see that there is far more resultant from the cross of Christ than we imagine. When the apostle was caught up into the third heaven he evidently saw things like that.
The second thing necessary for entering into God's full thought, the unsearchable riches of Christ, is, as the apostle says here, "a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the full knowledge of Him". Now, it is important to underline the actual word there which is not translated into the English correctly. All we have is, "in the knowledge of Him". We must pause, because this is not written to the unsaved, who need to know the Lord, and this is not written to mere infants who have just some knowledge of the Lord. It is written to people who have had a real ministry. You must remember that the apostle was with them for three years himself. He has given these Ephesians a very rich ministry, and not only they, but others to whom this circular letter was sent. So it is not just knowledge unto salvation, and it is not just that knowledge which brings salvation, the knowledge which spiritual children have. The Holy Spirit, therefore, uses a word which means "the full knowledge of Him"; "a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the full knowledge of Him". The unsearchable riches of Christ are the full knowledge. Unto that a spirit of wisdom and revelation is needed. The apostle would not have prayed for that if it had not been possible, if it were not for us.
The third thing as necessary to enter is, "that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, that ye may be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inward man". It requires an inner strengthening to arrive at the full knowledge of Him, the knowledge of the unsearchable riches of Christ.
Now, the stewardship, as the apostle calls it, of this mystery, of these unsearchable riches of Christ, is essentially connected with the revelation of the Body of Christ. That is stated here quite emphatically. That is a point upon which we must settle, and it must be allowed to take hold of us and sink into us. The stewardship of the unsearchable riches of Christ is essentially connected with the revelation of the Body of Christ. Unless we have a revelation of the Body of Christ we do not have the stewardship of the unsearchable riches of Christ. If we are to have a ministry of the fulness of Christ we must have a revelation as to what that fulness is for, with what it is connected, and that is the Body of Christ.
It is not enough for you or for me to read the letter to the Ephesians, to study the letter to the Ephesians, to analyse it and even to memorise it, and then say, 'We know what the church is as the Body of Christ.' We may have all the terms, and all that is said, not only in this letter, but elsewhere about the church as the Body of Christ. We may know it like that, but never have had a revelation of the Body of Christ. That makes all the difference. Some of us lectured on Ephesians and preached Ephesians for years, and talked much about the Body of Christ, the church which is His Body, and the day came years after that when the revelation of the Body of Christ came to us. It came through the Word, but it was a revelation, and such a difference was made as to have proved utterly revolutionary. In the first place it was emancipating; it simply lifted us clean out of everything else. Then it meant a Holy Spirit ministry that has been growing and going on without hard labour in the ministry, but rather the flow of the Spirit in revelation.
It makes a tremendous difference when you get the revelation of the thing, and that is what the apostle is here seeking to bring over to his readers. He is saying things; he is putting it down in writing; and then it is as though he almost recoils and says, 'I wonder if they will understand this? They will read it, they will see these things as I write them, what I have written, but, oh, I do not want these people just to have something in writing, I want that all to become a mighty revelation to them as it has become to me. I want it to mean to them what it means to me; I want those people emancipated; I want them under an opened heaven.' "For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father, that He would grant unto you a spirit of wisdom and revelation...". Then perhaps he wonders if they may faint in view of it all, what a tremendous thing it is, and how conscious they may be of their own weakness and imperfection, and be discouraged so that they might say, 'Oh, we shall never attain unto it'; "for this cause... I pray that He would grant you that you may be strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inward man." It is all in relation to the unsearchable riches.
So these three things are set forth as the way: firstly, a recognition of the heavenly position of the church; then, a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the full knowledge of Him; finally, the strengthening with power by His Spirit in the inward man.
There is a big difference, you will agree, between a human being and a mighty set of machinery or organisation. There is a great difference in the mode of operation between those two. In the machinery there is no mind; the mind is outside, apart, it does not belong to the machinery. In the machinery there is no power. The power is supplied to the machinery from outside. In the machinery there is no spontaneous movement; it has to be driven. In a body the mind is in itself, the energy is in itself, everything is there self-contained. It is the difference between the church as the Body of Christ and the church as an institution. Here in the church, which is His Body, the government is from the Head without human counsel; the unity is without human arrangement; the resources are by Divine augmentation without human appeal; the growth is without organised effort. The government is from within as by the Head, the Lord's government, and not man's counsels. The oneness is the oneness of the Spirit. It is not arranged or brought about by man. The resources are the resources which come direct from the Head Himself to meet all the requirements. They are never brought from without by effort and appeal. The development and the growth is from within, and not by organised efforts.
When you really get the Body in expression that is exactly what you get. You can dispense with all committee work, and in prayer know exactly what the Head is doing, and desires to be done, by revelation of the Holy Spirit within. That principle applies to everything when you have a Body. It is self-contained in every way. It is not that the Body has a Head, it is that the Head has a Body, and that makes all the difference. It is not that the Body has to get a Head, and gets everything in that way; it is that this Head has a Body, and He is governing, He is directing, He is supplying; He is in charge. So the apostle says here, "gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His Body, the fulness of Him...". The Lord is in charge of this. The Lord has His own work in hand, His own end in view. You must get onto the basis of what the Body means in order to know this fulness of Christ, to know this working of Christ. It is not theory at all; it is truth. You get onto any other ground of the conception of the church, and you find that the responsibility rests with the people, someone or some company has to take responsibility for it all, but when you get onto the ground of the Body you find that the Lord takes responsibility. He takes responsibility for the ministry. He meets all the requirements of the ministry. That is a boon to those who minister. We know the difference between an old form of ministry, where the responsibility was on our shoulders, and we had to meet the demands and find the wherewithal, and it meant keeping abreast of everything to be able to keep up the ministry and be fresh in our preaching. You come onto the Body ground and the Lord takes responsibility for that, and it is by revelation; there is spontaneous fulness, and spontaneous flow. You come onto the Body ground and the Lord takes responsibility for the resources, for meeting the need without your making appeals, and that is no small thing. And so it is with everything.
You have come to the place where the Lord Himself is simply doing His work, expressing Himself, giving Himself. It is the Lord Himself; that is all. Can you imagine the risen, ascended, glorified Lord going cap-in-hand to this world to help Him do His work? It is unthinkable! He does not have to come down to these poor, mean levels of human resource to tap them; He has everything; all the fulness is His. The Body is not a Body if there is no Head. It is the Lord in effect, and He is going on, but going on now in all the universal resource and freedom of His heavenly position. That is why it is necessary to come spiritually into heavenly union with Him.
It seems that the Lord wants that stressed and recognised, that it is this which constitutes the prophetic function of the church - simply the personal expression of the Lord, His representation and His embodiment.
So there can be no action upon merely intellectual theories as to the nature of Christ's work, as to the need of man, as to the character of our commission. We do not sit down to think this out, work it out intellectually, and say, 'Now then, Christ's work is so-and-so, and the need of man is so-and-so, and the character of our commission is so-and-so.' That is beginning at the wrong end. The governing factor is that the Holy Spirit dictates; it all comes that way. You do not have to sit down and plan it out; it comes to pass when you are in Holy Spirit union with the Lord. We can go all wrong in applying our minds as to what the Lord's work is, and what we ought to do, by simply reasoning as to what man's need is. The Lord knows that very often we get surprises, that when we thought a need was such-and-such the Lord does not take account of that at all, and we are compelled to deal with things along an altogether different line.
We find that in the beginning things were of a spontaneous character which was simply the living expression of the Holy Spirit's sovereignty in the church. Nothing was done by mere mental conclusions as to the scheme, the policy or the objective. It all sprang out of the supremacy of the Holy Spirit in the church as the Spirit of Christ. The expression of Jesus as Priest continued in the church.
Now we will pass on for a few moments to that next feature of Christ's ministry as taken up in the church, namely, priesthood. We shall not be able to go very far, but we can indicate some things which should be of profit. We have contemplated Christ as Priest, and seen what the priestly function is. Now that has to be taken up in the church just as the prophetic function has to be, and we can sum up the priestly characteristics and activities in a few things.
One very full expression of priesthood revealed in the Word of God in type, and taken up by the Lord Jesus, is that in priesthood, certain things are opposed to one another. A condition exists which threatens the realisation of God's purpose; it stands in the way to obstruct and render impossible the attainment of the revealed mind of God for man. Priesthood, as we have seen, comes in to meet the situation, and to oppose it point by point, to counter it and render it nil. So that in the first place priesthood stands to oppose sanctification to sinfulness. The priests represented Israel. They were not a class apart, but Israel was gathered up in them. Israel was called to be a kingdom of priests, or a kingdom and priests. The one thing about Israel, therefore, as represented by the priests is their complete sanctification. They are separated from all defilement, from everything that is opposed to God's thought; they are a consecrated and sanctified people. And in the power of that sanctification they oppose an active force of sinfulness, and in that opposing they render nil the thing which threatens God's purpose.
The Lord Jesus undoubtedly has done that in His priestly work. He has met all sinfulness, and opposed it with His own sanctification. He has destroyed it in the power of holiness. Holiness, we must recognise, is a mighty, active, energetic force. It is not just a passive state. That is where we make a mistake. We think that to be holy is something very lovely, quiet, beautiful and enjoyable, but remember that whenever you come to holiness in the Word of God you meet something awful. Come and touch God's holiness and see how you feel. Should anything that is not according to the holiness of God come into the presence of God, in His holiness it will be met with the awfulness of that holiness. Sanctification is an active force opposed to another active force in this universe, and there is terrific impact.
Is not that one explanation of the holy life of the Lord Jesus viewed from a certain standpoint, that His very presence roused something? His very presence disturbed; He could not be endured; His presence brought conviction. "Let him that is without sin cast the first stone", and they all went out from the eldest to the youngest. There is something not just in the words that is conveyed; His presence smites. It is a tremendous, potent thing; it destroys; it opposes. As He offered Himself to God a holy sacrifice, without sin, that holiness was an effectual power, destroying that which stood in the way of man's coming to God's end and realising God's thought. Lay hold by faith of that sanctification of the Lord Jesus, and it is something which operates to deliver you from the paralyzing power of sinfulness. It is an active force. That is priesthood.
The church, being called into that one office of the priestly ministry of the Lord Jesus, having by faith stood into His holiness, and walking today according to that holiness, in separation unto God, sprinkled with the precious blood, becomes a mighty, active force to clear the way for man to come to God's end. It operates in the virtue of Christ's holiness against sin and sinfulness, to destroy and nullify it as something that stands in the way of man coming through.
That sounds like something very big, and perhaps technical or hard to understand. But you and I know that if we seek to deal with some sin that has risen up to arrest the spiritual progress of some life, to get that life delivered from the bondage of that sin which has come across their path, we know quite well that if there is conscious sin in our own lives we are paralyzed in the matter of helping that other life. The whole thing comes back on us, and we find ourselves helpless in dealing with things like that, and we have to get to the Lord and get straight with the Lord before we can help that other one, because holiness is not only a state, it is a power; something that brings conviction. Remember that this is the value of living a holy life. You need not tell anybody where you stand. (I am not saying there is no need to testify). You need not in the first place tell anybody that you are a Christian and that you belong to the Lord Jesus.
If you are living a life of communion with the Lord, your presence will arouse the devil, your presence will raise resistance before you have said a word, and your presence will be God's strategic occasion for helping someone through. How often it has been like that. Someone has been in difficulty, and have found there is sin in their life, and they have longed to get through. They have looked around and no one has spoken to them, but they have known somebody within the circle of their associations who represented the solution to their problem. They know when there is a true Christian about, a child of God, and they have so often gone to that one. A life lived in communion with God through the virtue of the ever-cleansing blood of the Lord Jesus is a strategic thing for God in delivering souls, in making a way for man, in clearing the path for realising God's full thought. There is a mighty power in holiness which is not passive, but very active. That is priestliness. We are all called to be priests. Every child of God is a priest.
Then, priestliness is the life in the Spirit opposing life in the flesh. You look at the priests again, and you see how very careful and precise the Lord was along this line, that, so far as they were concerned, no flesh whatever was to appear in their lives; their whole bodies were to be covered. There was precaution taken that even when they mounted the steps of the altar their flesh should not become uncovered. It is a type of tremendous significance. There is to be a life lived not in the flesh, with no flesh appearing, but in the Spirit, under the anointing, opposed to life in the flesh. It is a mighty thing. It related to the expression and manifestation of God in the midst of His people to all around. If there is flesh then God is obscured.
Now apply that to the spiritual life. It is only as you and I live and walk in the Spirit, and not after the flesh, that we have power. Carnality is the destruction of all spiritual power. We are immediately laid low spiritually when carnality arises. We know it quite well, and we have to go back and say, 'That was flesh', and repent of it, put it away in the grave. When we speak of flesh, please do not think we are speaking of something that is obviously and grossly iniquitous. We are speaking of the life of nature, self-life, that whole body of the old creation, which the Lord says was crucified and put in the grave of the Lord Jesus. If we bring it back again and are actuated by it or allow it to influence us, our spiritual power is immediately nullified. But as we walk in the Spirit and not in the power of the flesh we oppose something that is in the way of the full purpose of God. It is Spirit opposed to flesh, a mighty energy clearing the way for God.
Then in priesthood it is life in the Spirit opposing death. Of all the characteristics of priestly ministry, that perhaps is the most outstanding. You will notice that all the time the priest has to do with life and death. He has to take account of death through sin in judgement. Death is the last enemy. Death is the final expression of a state opposed to God's mind and it is recognised by the priests. The priest, in virtue of the precious blood, opposes life to death.
You will notice that because of the priestly function everything is made to live, there is life. If it were not for the priest, to come into God's presence would be death. You cannot come into the holy place and live. You cannot come into the Lord's presence and live apart from the priestly function in virtue of the blood, but because the priest is operating in virtue of that blood, everything lives. It is a testimony of life; it is life all the time triumphing over death. That is priesthood. It is life opposed to death being the great obstructor of God's purpose.
We are taught that Christ's own priestly ministry, taken up after the order of Melchizedek, is after the power of an indissoluble life. That is the essence of His priesthood, an indissoluble life - death entirely set aside, overcome. That is taken up in the church, and while these other things are indispensable, this is the ultimate, supreme work and testimony of the church: to minister life over against death. The Lord's people are here primarily and ultimately to be a testimony of life against death, a mighty resistance to death, and there is plenty of scope for that ministry. Death is active. We are not speaking merely in the physical realm. What a tremendous power there is in spiritual death! Why, sometimes when you pray you feel you are right up against an opposing force of death that will suffocate, throttle and kill you. With ministry in the Word it is often like a great wave of death everywhere; it has gripped everything. The church is here in the priestly work of the Lord Jesus to oppose life against death, and to nullify it, so that the one thing that should characterise us when we are together is that death is vanquished. There may be a battle, but you find life triumphing. The Lord is training us in this priestly ministry by allowing us to have a good deal of experience in the matter of conflict with the devil. The further we go on with the Lord the more we come to understand the nature of spiritual death and its terrible force. The Lord allows that in order to bring us out into our priestly ministry; that is, to have the testimony of life opposed to the testimony of death.
The last glorious phase of the conflict will be: "The last enemy that will be destroyed is death." I do not believe that any of these things that we are told will be destroyed are destroyed in a kind of official way, as though the Lord came forth and smote the thing and it died. That is not the way things are slain. The Lord opposes them in His people. All those things have to be wrought in a body; a Man has to do this. "By man came sin", by man has to come the riddance of sin. "By man came death"; then by man death has to be vanquished. The church has to take that up, and in the end the last enemy will be destroyed, not by the Lord coming out and smiting it, but by the Lord in His church destroying it. Oh, what a conflict that will be! It will be the last agony! It will be terrific to meet the last force of death. The issue is victory, however intense the conflict will be.
That is priestliness: opposing those things which are set in the way of God's full thought with life. God causes His church to function in this priestly way to nullify those other things by virtue of spiritual forces, holiness, life in the Spirit, and life as against sinfulness and flesh, nature, self and death.
Open your heart to let the import of these things in. It all means this, that the Lord Jesus occupies a certain position. In heaven as (Prophet) Man He represents God's full thought. In heaven as Priest He stands opposed to all that which has come in to frustrate God's thought in fulness. In heaven He is King, with whom is the ultimate issue of dominion. The church is an elect Body, brought in, through which He can express that. He can express what God's thought is and set it forth before men, He can meet all the opposing forces to God's thought in and through the church, (and that is what the church is for), and He can show in and through the church that He is universal Lord when He is on the throne.
We have not yet considered the church as related to the throne and the King, but this is what it amounts to. Living, Holy Spirit union with Christ means just that. As we go on we shall learn the meaning of these things which are very real. You may ask, 'How did you come to know all these things?' Not by study, nor by reading, but through a number of years in the hands of God, being taken into experiences strange and mysterious, dark and difficult, fighting a way through defeat and failure and a lot of other things. It was in all these adversities and perplexities discovering Divine secrets, the Lord showing where things were wrong and what was the secret. So we come to know in a living way, and things become very real in that way. If we go on with the Lord we shall all come into the secrets of the Lord, and to come into the secrets of the Lord is to be put in a very strong position. It means that there is something there that Satan cannot overthrow. He can overthrow a lot of things, but he cannot overthrow what is wrought of God.