Fundamental Questions of the Christian Life # 6
The Foundation of a Great Church and of Great Ministries, continued
Here was a church being founded and formed for tremendous purposes and with tremendous capacity. What spiritual capacity it requires to be a church like that - to be able to take all that an apostle such as Paul could give! That is a very testing thing. Those who minister in the Word of God, and in the Holy Spirit, know very well the capacity of their hearers by the liberty that they have to give the message. Sometimes they find themselves limited because their hearers cannot take more. They may not know the people, but they are conscious of the limitation. At other times they find themselves completely released, able without any difficulty to give all that they have. They are moving in the Spirit, and those to whom they minister have capacity.
Now these people at Ephesus had capacity. In those three years they could receive "the whole counsel of God", and later they could receive this matchless letter which the Apostle wrote from his prison. A church with such capacity - and, let me add, Christians with such capacity - must know in a very real way what it means to receive the Holy Spirit. The receiving of the Holy Spirit is the beginning, the foundation, of all the work of building and enlarging.
Paul's ministry was a great ministry here, among these believers. Let us recall that Timothy, also, was a minister of the church at Ephesus, and that his ministry was enriched, constituted, inspired, instructed, by Paul himself. Paul was able to say that Timothy had followed his teaching and conduct (2 Tim. 3:10). Yes, Timothy had been in close association with the Apostle, for a long time and over a wide area, and he ministered at Ephesus. And then we remember that the great Apostle John was an elder of the church at Ephesus. What wealth John has given us, in Gospel, Letters and Revelation! What a church this was! What a church it became from these twelve believers! And it all sprang out of the receiving of the Holy Spirit. I commend to you a study of the place of the Holy Spirit in the letter to the Ephesians. He has a very large place in the letter from beginning to end.
(2) What The Passage Teaches
The first aspect of the significance of our passage, then, is the church itself and the ministries that were fulfilled in it. Let us now come to the second aspect - namely, that which the passage teaches. You notice that it can be divided into three sections. The middle section is the Holy Spirit: that is central, that is the focal point of everything. Then on the one side of that you have a section circling around the word "disciples" - "Paul... found certain disciples" - and on the other side a section circling around the word "baptism." You have the Holy Spirit in the center: then, on the one side disciples, on the other side baptism.
(1) The Work of the Holy Spirit
We must recognize, first of all, that Paul's question concerning the Holy Spirit must have had a good reason. I do not think it was just a casual or formal question - that Paul arrived there and in a quite casual way, without any special point or object, put this question to these people. "Did ye receive the Holy Spirit when ye believed?" We are bound to believe that Paul had a reason, and a very good reason, for asking the question. We are left, of course, to surmise, to conjecture, but the issue of the question shows that Paul had discerned something. He had detected in these disciples some lack. And his discernment enabled him to put his finger on the spot, as we say.
Now, when Paul puts a question like that, we have to bring to it all that Paul would have brought concerning the Holy Spirit. We should need to go to all his writings, and to his own personal experience, and gather up, if we could, all that Paul knew and all that Paul had experienced as to the place, the work and the importance of the Holy Spirit. And that was no small thing! Paul has set forth what he knew about the Holy Spirit from many different aspects.
(a) Union With Christ
To begin with, Paul has made it clear that without the Holy Spirit there is NO union with Christ. Union with Christ is the very heart of Christianity: it is the great, great theme of Paul, and union with Christ is the work of the Holy Spirit. To quote one of his own fragments: "He that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit" (1 Cor. 6:17). All that Paul knew and had experienced about the Holy Spirit focused upon this great matter of union with Christ, and he brought all that into his question. The question could have been put in other ways. Paul could have raised directly the fundamental question of union with Christ. Or he could have spoken of the new creation. Paul has a good deal to say, both directly and by inference, as to a new creation in Christ Jesus. And from these and many other suggestions and indications, we see that Paul thought of the Christian life as a kind of spiritual counterpart to the material creation. He said: "God, that said, Light shall shine out of darkness ... shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Cor. 4:6). He saw this as the counterpart of the creational act, or Divine fiat, "Let there be light." The spiritual counterpart has taken place in us. In another place you will find that Paul brings in the Holy Spirit in that connection. He changes his metaphor, but keeps to his truth. God has written in our hearts, not with pen and ink, but by the Spirit of the living God (2 Cor. 3:3).
(2) Order and Fruitfulness
Paul has many other allusions to the creation, as he takes it over into the spiritual life. What a lot he made of the power of the Word of God in the life - creative power in the life of the believer! How much he has given us concerning order as a result of the work of the Holy Spirit! At the beginning of the Bible we see order developing or emerging out of the chaos and disruption, under the influence of the brooding Spirit. Now, in the spiritual life, under the influence and power of the Spirit of God in this new creation, the same thing is taking place: a new order is emerging in the life of the believer. And as, out of the barren desolation in which the earth is found at the beginning of the Bible, fruitfulness emerges and develops, so is it, Paul teaches, with the fruit of the Spirit in the life of the believer. "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, self-control" (Gal. 5:22, 23). Instead of the barrenness of the unbeliever's life, there comes this fruitfulness. It is a work of new creation by the Holy Spirit. And as at the beginning in the material creation we see a progressive development and growth, so Paul has much to say to us about growth and progressiveness under the government of the Spirit of God. A life governed and led by the Spirit is one that goes on developing, growing, increasing in Christ. In a life in which the Holy Spirit is having His way there is NO stagnation. Such a life is not the same today as it was a year ago - that would be all wrong. The progressive factor in the new creation, as a part of the work of the Holy Spirit, is made very clear by the Apostle.
(continued with # 7 - Revelation of Man's Destiny)