Reading: Eph. 4:24,25; Col. 3:10; Rom. 6:4-6, 7:6, 12:2,4-6; 1 Cor. 12:12-14,20,27.
What I feel the Lord wants added to our series of messages is a word on the essential corporate nature of that which is born of the Spirit, of the new creation in Christ. It is into this that there are gathered in the fullest meaning of those things of which we have been speaking.
1. The Heavenliness of the New Creation
We commenced with the heavenliness in nature, life, resources and vocation of that which is born of the Spirit, the new creation in Christ Jesus. And that, while applying to the individual and being true of the individual, is pre-eminently true of the church which is the Body of Christ. That fact, of course, must come by revelation of the Holy Spirit before it can be apprehended and appreciated, but as a fact it has to be stated and we have to take facts to the Lord and ask Him to make them living realities.
So we must recognise the fact that the church, according to the Word of God, is essentially a heavenly thing in its nature, resources, life and vocation. Putting that round the other way, it is not an earthly thing; its life is not of the earth, its resources are not of the earth. Let that fall on you very heavily. The resources of the church, according to God, are not of the earth.
Its vocation is a heavenly vocation. We must always remember that while there is an aspect of the vocation of the people of God which is manward, the pre-eminent aspect is Godward. You find that borne out very clearly in the Old Testament in the worship of the Tabernacle and the Temple, for when you begin to deal with the Tabernacle, where you see God's mind, you always begin at the inside. God begins on the inside. He commenced with the most holy place and what was therein, and coming from God beginning there, indicates the true and highest nature of the vocation of that which represents the dwelling place of God; that is, its vocation is Godward before it is manward and we are called to fulfil a ministry which is more in relation to heavenly things than it is to earthly things. One would like to stay with that for a time because it is very important that we should recognise that we are such earthbound, earth limited creatures, that for us the span of our years here, and sphere of our activities here has counted more than anything else and if there has been limitation in earthly life and service, we have felt that was the governing feature, and that represented failure. Not necessarily so. The Lord is fulfilling through the church a heavenly ministry and vocation which far transcends time, and space, and this earth, and that explains a good deal - something of which we may mention in a few moments.
"That now unto the principalities and powers, by the church, the manifested wisdom of God is being made known". There is the heavenly vocation; and at most, the church in this age will have touched, so far as this earth is concerned, a very small portion. It will be composed of a very small percentage of the inhabitants of this earth. Not because God has doomed the rest, but He is taking out from the nations a people for His Name, and we know that the church is relatively a small thing in comparison with the vast multitudes of those who are on the earth, and always will be. And when the church is withdrawn and you see all that great margin of those not in and of the church, you say "Well, is this all? Is this all that the church was for?" and you begin to judge by measurements of that kind and you feel that it is a failure. But you have got to take eternity into account. This has to come into account, and something beyond that which is seen in the vocation of the church. There is something being done through the church by God in His wisdom, which goes beyond the bounds of humanity and beyond the limits of this earth. It is a heavenly vocation and it is unto God. The church is called to minister in a heavenly way.
Universality was the second meditation. The universality of that which is born of the Spirit and the church as the New Man. Note that is what it said in the passages we read. The church is the new man - one new man - it is universal in its range, in its influence, in its ministry. It is universal; it is not local, though it may have a local expression among local companies. It is not national; it is not international. I am afraid a good many minds have slipped up there and thought the church is international, that it is comprised of all nations. No! It is not comprised of all nations. It is not comprised of nations at all. The Word says, "where there cannot be Jew and Gentile" not "where Jew and Gentile combine", but "where there cannot be Jew and Gentile, bondmen, freemen". These things do not come in at all. It is not an international church. It is a super-national church, a new creation, a new man where all earthly distinctions are entirely lost.
And Paul, to come there, was given the supreme revelation of the church, the body of Christ, and is himself a personal representation of the teaching and ministry that was committed to him. God has wrought it into the very life of this man. And to me, one of the most striking things is how Paul, of all the apostles, the authorised Jew, is introduced with his threatening and slaughters, making havoc of the church, casting men and women into prison because this thing was a threat to Judaism. That man is here dealt with by the Spirit of God, so that the Gentile is eventually just as much as the Jew to him. The marvellous emerging of this thing was that he withstood even Peter to the face on this very question. Remember how the Galatian letter opens. With Peter and certain others "...I withstood him to the face because, before they were come down he went in and ate with the Gentiles, but when they were come he withdrew - I withstood him for his dissimulation". There is some hypocrisy that Paul could not tolerate now - this man who once had persecuted the Gentiles and would not have them, is now withstanding Peter to the face that he is withdrawing from the Gentiles because of the brethren and because of what they would say if they saw him going in to eat with the Gentiles. I feel that one of the miracles of New Testament history is that change in Paul so that he becomes the embodiment of the truth of the new man where there is neither Jew nor Gentile, where that distinction has been lost sight of entirely and it is not a matter of international movement, but One New Man and if there was ever one new man typically, that was Paul himself, on this very thing. That is the church, the Body of Christ, universal in its nature.
3. The Sovereign Headship of the Lord Jesus
Then we went on to the sovereignty, the sovereign headship of the Lord Jesus, the sovereignty of the new creation. It is very striking to note that the New Testament begins with the gospel concerning sovereignty. Matthew introduces the gospel along the line of sovereignty. It is the King. Matthew - sovereignty. The striking thing is this, that having introduced the gospel along the line of sovereignty, before he gets to the end of his gospel, he has introduced the church as the instrument of that sovereignty. Matthew 16: sovereignty vested in the church so that the gates of Hades are unable to prevail against it. That is just it; the church which is His Body is the instrument of the administration of the sovereignty of the Lord Jesus as sovereign Head over all things to the church which is His Body. That is the nature of the church's power: authority and influence according to the mind of God. And there is a great quest to recover the church's prestige today, to recover its influence in the world, to reinstate it in the world as something to be taken account of and to be reckoned with. And there has been a great deal of deploring of the fact that in great international crises the church is not a factor, whatever men may mean by that. They are thinking of it as a force on earth with political, moral and social position, influence, and power, raising its voice of authority in the matter of ethics and public morals and so on. They do not mean this: the spiritual sovereignty of Jesus Christ through and by the church meeting forces of evil behind the world situation; that is another thing altogether.
It is one thing to raise a public voice to try and stem the tide of worldly forces, and world counsels, it is quite another thing to meet the principalities and powers and world rulers of this darkness, the spiritual hosts of wickedness lying behind the spiritual bondage of men whose minds are darkened, and who are governed by the prince of the power of the air. In that realm the sovereignty of the Lord Jesus counts, and it is in that realm that the church is paralysed. Earthly position and power is not the thing that the Lord Jesus desires for His church. The New Man stands in the sovereignty of his Head, the Lord Jesus Christ.
4. The Perfecting Through Suffering, Chastening and Discipline
We went on to speak about the perfecting through suffering, chastening, and discipline, and we want now to recognise that this relates not only to the individual, but that it is a corporate thing. It is the church's perfecting.
5. The Corporate Nature of the New Creation
We have all recognised that everything now in the believer's life is not only personal or individual; it is relative to all other believers, it is corporate, it is a part of a whole, and we should rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. And you will notice that when reading that passage I called attention to what followed, "speak everyone truth with his neighbour seeing ye have put on the new man" - the new man, a corporate new man - and it is a matter of relationships now with all other believers.
Suffering is one suffering; suffering is not isolated suffering, it is suffering in the behalf of the church which is His Body. Paul saw that principle, "to fill up that which is lacking". Paul's sufferings were corporate sufferings and we have to recognise that others are to come into the benefit of our sufferings. It is for the Body's sake. The blessing is the same. The ministry is the same. Here you have come to this then, that everything, while it has a personal application (seeing that we are severally members of Christ) has supremely a corporate meaning. It is relative, and all these things are gathered up in their various expression in the Body, the church.
Now, why this word? For this purpose: that the very term 'the Body', the very designation 'the Body' (which is the highest designation given to us for the church) that is the highest in the realm of what is corporate. When you are thinking in the realm of relationship, of oneness, then the thing which gets nearest, and which I think it is impossible to get nearer the principle of oneness, is the body. If you take the thought of a temple ("ye are stones built into a temple") it may be brought into very near proximity, you cannot get the above point; you still remain individual stones capable of being parted, separated, and the absence of one stone or more will not destroy the unity of the whole. You take the other designations of the church and you find they are intended to represent some particular aspect of the church like the wife or bride, and there you have the emphasis upon affectional relationship.
When you come to the body, that designation is intended to bring you to the final point of what is one; the body is one. Take the physical body as an illustration, because it is so mutually intertwined with itself that you cannot touch one point of this body without touching the whole. You tread on a tack; it only touches the tip of your toe but your whole body has got it! You have a bad tooth and you know quite well it involves your whole body. The oneness is so complete, and you cannot touch a point without involving the whole, and if you destroy one little part you have destroyed something which is vital, living; it is not a dead thing. We have nothing dead in this body, unless we are suffering paralysis. There is life to the tip and you can take hold of one hair of the thousands and your whole body has got it.
One wants to press this. It is the nature of oneness and everything is life in it. It is oneness of life, the oneness of an intricate system of energy all brought together and registered and passed into the head. That is the designation of the church in its highest expression of oneness. Is this what we have today in that which is called the church? That is not the governing principle of what is called the church today. There is this extra thing to take into account. We have not traced it, but it is implied, it is intelligent oneness. When you touch one of those points, you know it. It is not the fact of a mechanical oneness, it is conscious oneness, it is intelligence, and of course, the intelligence of this spiritual Body is the Holy Spirit - we are all baptised into one Spirit - and He is the intelligence of the whole from the Head, from Christ, in whom all the members are gathered up, as the Head. The Holy Spirit moves through the whole as its intelligent life, its conscious life. And beloved, it is that that the Lord wants to have recognised and understood and it is unto that that the apostle found it necessary to pray for believers that the eyes of our hearts might be enlightened - not the eyes of our reason - the sensitive affection organ being made alive to this great truth; you come into a sympathetic intelligence, knowledge, understanding of the oneness of all the members. So the very term "Body" is given to indicate the nature of the oneness of Christ and His members and all of the members together in Christ.
It is a matter of interdependence. What have we today taking the place of the body of Christ in this essential? I do not think l have exaggerated the truth; I have only sought to bring out what is true: we have committees, councils, companies of men coming together and organising, and arranging, manipulating and directing the things of the church along the lines of this world's business for the most part, and seeking by all kinds of means to draw upon this world's resources to keep God's work going. You know the whole system of things. Men running it as they run a business on this earth, and men have taken charge of the Lord's property. Men have taken charge of the church of God, but the church does not belong to men, it belongs to the Lord. The Body is for the Lord, it is the Lord's, and the Holy Spirit has come here to do the Lord's work and to carry out the Lord's purpose concerning His Body. If only we could get back to this, it is going to change things for us.
Building the Body, perfecting the Body is not our business - to see to the progress and expression of the church - that is not our business at all. That is the Holy Spirit's business; it is ours to be servants of the Holy Spirit, to do as He tells us: to give the word that He gives to us, to take whatever steps He dictates we should take, not to sit down and plan and scheme, order, and govern the thing and bring our judgment to bear upon it. What does the Lord say about it? And we are finding today the confounding of the counsels of men as they are trying to run the church of God, and at best it is not adequate, and the spiritual results are not ever where you have the most perfectly ordered and running machinery. The spiritual results are not those you have in the New Testament because man has taken the place of the Holy Spirit, and there has been a conforming to this age instead of a transforming by the renewing of the mind. The new man is a different thing altogether.
It is the interdependence of all the members that we want to emphasise; it represents the necessity for a tremendous emancipation. We have come into an awful inheritance of a long-standing system. The day was almost before the apostles had gone, when man pulled the church down out of the heavenlies and planted it on the earth and made it an earth thing and introduced man as architect and sought to make it a popular world movement with something to impress men, and draw men to it instead of leaving it to the Holy Spirit to draw men to it. That thing has been developed through all these hundreds of years and we have entered into that inheritance, and the Lord has got to deliver as much from a Christian system as from an anti-Christian system. It is just as big a thing as to deliver out of the power of darkness.
Forgive the stress of this, but it is important that if the Lord is going to have what His heart is set upon, things like this must be said. The new man is of heaven, not of earth. His life is from above, his resources are from heaven; though he might be in a wilderness, God can prepare a table in the wilderness and He has proved it again and again. Spiritually and humanly the resources are heavenly. It does not mean God will not use resources down here and give it into the hearts of His saints to bring their wherewithal to His aid, but it is how it comes. It is the Holy Spirit doing it, not our appeal, our going to people and saying that the work of God cannot go on unless you give big collections. It can go on. God can look after His work when men close their pockets. It is the direction of things; that the resources are heavenly, not earthly, and when one stream dries up the Lord has another one. With Elijah, when the brook dries up the Lord tells him to go to Zarephath, "I have commanded a widow woman to sustain thee". The Lord has a wonderful way of doing things. He can do it. It is the heavenly resource of the church, the heavenly life, heavenly nature.
As we have said before, the constant effort of the enemy, through man, has been to bring the church down on the earth and make it a popular movement, and he has damned the church by doing it every time. That is the way to do it - this is the doctrine of Balaam who taught Israel to commit fornication; that is, links with the earth; that which is outside of the covenant, and so they became cursed of God, and a curse always carries in its train failure to produce fruit. The thing has to come out of that connection, that relationship, that system. Now, if it is true, we have got to recognise the implication of it.
We have used the word 'interdependence'. "The foot cannot say to the hand, nor the eye to the foot, I have no need of you". There is interdependence. It means the Lord has brought into this wonderful life, that every member might get the benefit of the other members' strength and life, and be sustained and upheld by them, and that everyone has to live for the whole and the whole to live for everyone. And if you get that in representation, in part, wonderful things for God are going to be seen. When one or two according to God's order go out into some place where God has not got a representation and there are none there on that spot to sustain, support, succour, strengthen, it does not matter. There may be saints from the other end of the earth, but proximity does not count, it is no factor in the Body of Christ.
Let me prick your foot and then your hand and tell me which you felt first, which reached your brain first, and you will not be able for one moment to discern that, because your hand was nearer your head you felt it in quicker time than your foot. Proximity does not matter here. It is instantaneous; you can touch the farthest extremity of your body and it will register just as quickly as that part which is nearer your brain. You are just as near to the Lord Jesus in a company here as in the two or three who are three or four thousand miles away. There can be in that marvellous unity of the Spirit with the discriminating of all geographical situations, a mighty speedy co-operation with the saints thousands of miles away - without the necessity of even sending a cablegram! The Holy Spirit registers in you, So-and-so needs prayer; you pray, that synchronises in the moment of their need, and the thing is done. It is a working thing. Universal, timeless, sovereign. Even now. That is the order. Paul enjoyed that, he knew that. He said, "through your prayers". He was referring constantly to the prayers of the saints for him.
It is relativity in the spiritual realm, the relationship that is according to God, the new Testament conception of things, and although you may think it is a hopeless, despairing thing to expect to have anything like that universally today in this age, well, you do not abandon the whole thing because you feel it is hopeless to get all believers into that. Remember that end times have always seen God recovering His original idea by a remnant, by a nucleus. Back there in the captivity... who came back from captivity and reconstituted things according to God? Two tribes out of 12. What have you at the end of the Old Testament? The whole people lying under a curse except: "Then they that feared the Lord spoke often one to another"; you have a remnant according to the mind of God. That, today, is His way.
While, for the most part, the saints have lost the New Testament revelation of the church, and they are in something less, the Lord would have in the earth that which perhaps by comparison is very small, yet very precious because wholly according to His mind and it is having that revelation by the Holy Spirit. The Lord would have us to recognise this principle and co-operate with Him in it and, so far as we are concerned, stand in that: ruling out the earthly, the departmental, the divisional, and consequently getting into the universal thing in its spiritual vocation. Everything according to God's mind.
So when we have dealt with the individual application of all these things, we see that the supreme expression is collective, corporate, for this reason: that there is no one individual who is capable of entering! In this it is going to take all the members to enter into the fulness of Christ, the sovereignty of Christ; it cannot be bestowed in one member in its fulness. The glory ought never be given to a member in fulness. We must get the ultimate vision. What is the object of the Body ultimately? Why have we got bodies? Simply to express ourselves. To give expression to ourselves; that is all. It is the medium of making known ourselves, our mind, our thought, our desires. The Body of Christ is just for that. It is to be for the display of Himself, the manifestation of Himself, and ultimately the whole universe is going to see the fulness of Christ through the Body, the church; it is going to take the whole Body to do it. Christ is so great, His glory is so marvellous, that it will take a great multitude which no man can number, out of every nation etc.. That is the way He is going to do it: bringing many sons unto glory for the display of His glory that the nations may walk in the light thereof. We are interdependent for this one reason.
We need Christ in every member and every member needs Christ in us. That is an awkward way of putting it. The Lord strengthens our hands by giving to us through others, and He is against everything that is independent and freelance, that is contrary altogether to the truth of God; and therein you have the emphasis laid upon the necessity for subjection. "Subject yourselves one to another". Subjection in the house of God... though there is no independence. The opposite is independence, pride, personal action; subjection is coming into line with all the rest, working in co-operation and fellowship, order. This interdependence, this relativity, this corporateness is the principle of God's operation in this age and for the ages to come, and we must recognise it. It is spiritual, not mechanical, but spiritual, living, vital - by the Holy Spirit. The Lord open our eyes to understand it. It is necessary to believe what He has been saying in these messages.
We shall finish where we began in recognising the Lord Jesus in His place and we would not put the Body in the place of the Head for one moment.