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Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The Nature of the Dispensation In Which We Live # 2

The Nature of the Dispensation In Which We Live # 2

If one thing is true among others, it is this, that you and I are utterly hopeless in the matter of making people spiritual. You may put them into institutions and colleges, and make them preachers, and make them organizers,and make them workers, and make them a hundred and one things, but you can never make them spiritual. It is no use having homes and places for gathering together the Lord's people with a view to making them spiritual. If ever you think that that is what you are going to do with them, let me tell you, you cannot do it. You can give them a lot of knowledge, teach them what is in the Bible, can turn them out very different from what they were when they came in in many respects, but you cannot make them spiritual. I cannot make myself spiritual, you cannot make yourself spiritual. You are helpless in that matter. Unless the Spirit of God comes and does something, we are helpless, and that is the great mistake many have made, that they have thought by imparting Biblical knowledge and knowledge of spiritual things and how to work for the Lord, they are qualifying people for the Lord's use. Does it work out like that? Not necessarily; unless there is something extra to all that which is God's own work, then that does not count with God, it does not get anywhere with God, and really it only provides the background of fresh tragedies. It is true of many. I am not saying that those things are wrong and useless. I am speaking of one thing. We cannot make people spiritual, in that matter we are hopeless. Only the Holy Spirit can do it, and that is done only on the basis of life or in a living way. It can only be accomplished by real, inward, spiritual history under the hand of the Holy Spirit.

The Purpose of Suffering

Now, it is just there that suffering, affliction, adversity, frustration and all those things have their place. Why adversity in the Lord's work and in relation to the Lord? Why frustration, why suffering, why affliction? When the story is told at last, when it is fully told at last - and what an immense story it will be - what we shall discover is that it was the frustration, it was the suffering, the affliction, the adversity, the sorrow, the trial, that was the means of making us spiritual, nothing else - it was that that did it. We have to say, by the grace of God, that we owe our spiritual measure of increase to the suffering through which the Lord allowed us to go.

"Our light affliction, which is for the moment, worketh for us more and more exceedingly an eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal" (2 Cor. 4:17-18).

God is working eternal values which are not seen, but only to be grasped by the eye of faith. We have got to settle this, or else we are beaten before we start. Are we not all the time really fighting strongly to get the Lord on to a temporal basis with us? Why have any adversity why have any suffering? Indeed,k why have an enemy at all, why have a devil, why have afflictions and persecutions? Why should we have this if the Lord is Lord almighty, all-powerful, all-gracious, and really is concerned for His interests and for the progress of His work? If the Lord really is with us and on our side as the Mighty One, then the devil ought to be swept out of the way, and all hindrances and frustration ought to go to the wind, and all sufferings at once ought to be subjugated, and we ought to know nothing of this, we ought to ride triumphantly on without any of this sort of thing which is a weight upon us, and is only interrupting and frustrating growth and progress. The devil all the time is hindering and the Lord is not getting. Is He not? That is a matter you and I have got to settle.

The fact is that the New Testament is full of that sort of thing. The one man who has more of the heavenly vision, the knowledge of things spiritual, than any other man in the New Testament is the man who knows more of this other side than any other man. He tells us more about what he had to go through. "Thrice I was shipwrecked" (2 Cor. 11:25). There is something wrong about that - the Lord letting one of His great apostles be shipwrecked again and again, just escaping with his life on a spar! Imprisoned again and again, thrashed with rods, suffering, hunger cold, nakedness. Oh, the list! We do not know when these things happened. He simply tells us that they did happen. Most of them have never been recorded by Luke. Why? Because he was not writing the life of Paul, he was writing the life of the Lord Jesus, but Paul mentions them. Paul says, "I once and again would have come to you, but satan hindered" (1 Thess. 2:18). Oh, there is something wrong about that! Paul does not explain it, he does not say that it is wrong, he takes it in his stride. You see what I mean.

We are so wanting to bring the Lord again on to the temporal basis, to clear up all these difficulties, to get hindrances out of the way, to have a clear course, to lift us right out of adversity, suffering, affliction, weakness, and very often we are tempted to make that the criterion as to whether the Lord is with us and for us. You know quite well there are plenty of Job's friends about, Christian ones too, always ready to say, 'Yes, it is because you are wrong, you are in error, that is why you have so much of it!' That is a matter that has got to be settled. Here it is. Are we going to expect anything different from what the Lord had Himself, the heavenly Lord? Are we going to expect anything different from what Paul and the believers of his day had? These letters are so full of references to these afflictions and sufferings of the saints. Do they mean that satan is triumphant and the Lord is defeated, or that the Lord is not with His own? Let us get that settled.

What, then, is the meaning of all this? Oh, let us look again. Is it not by these means that we are being made conformable to the heavenly Christ? You know the fact remains that the people who live in that infant stage of temporal things and who will not walk with the Lord unless He gives them proof positive in temporal realms of His being with them are not spiritually helpful people, that is, they are not the people to whom you can go in the deepest hours of your life. There is an inward place. People who can help those who really do know the deepest tests of faith,are those who have gone through and been sustained even when the Lord has not shown His hand for their deliverance. Is that not true? It is a level of life. Conformity to the heavenly Lord is by everything being heavenly and the Lord not letting us off in this matter of heavenliness. You want it down here, you want it in the temporal realm, things seen, things that you can bring up as proof positive, all the evidences. You want it like that, but the way of conformity to the heavenly Christ is not along that line. Things will be heavenly, and oh, my word, they are! We have not got much here, the Lord does not give you much here. It is all heavenly, it is HIMSELF. As soon as you and I begin to make a great deal of the things, the Lord may step in and smite the things in order that He might be the object and not the things, the heavenly Lord known and ministered by the Spirit in a living way on the line of life.

~T. Austin-Sparks~

(continued with # 3 - Conception, Not Imitation

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Nature of the Dispensation In Which We Live # 1

The Nature of the Dispensation In Which We Live # 1

Reading:

"The Spirit himself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are children of God: and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with Him, that we may be also glorified with Him. For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed to us-ward" (Romans 8:16-18).

"For we would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning our affliction which befell us in Asia, that we were weighted down exceedingly, beyond our power, insomuch that we despaired even of life: yea, we ourselves have had the sentence of death within ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raiseth the dead; who delivered us out of so great a death, and will deliver; on whom we have set our hope that he will also still deliver us; ye also helping together by your supplication" (2 Corinthians 1:8-11).

"For our light affliction, which is for the moment, worketh for us more and more exceedingly an eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal" (2 Cor. 4:17-18).

Just leave those words in the background, while we come to stand before the general prospect or presentation.

First of all, it surely is of very great importance that we, the Lord's children, should be able to recognize those governing features of the dispensation in which we live, that which gives to this dispensation its character, its nature. The importance of recognizing that is, that unless we do, we shall be out of joint all the time, we shall be found in a state of inward conflict, we shall have a battle continually going on inside us which completely unfits us for the battle outside; and I am sure that you will agree that it is no use trying to fight a situation outside, an enemy outside, while you are all the time occupied with one inside, if not altogether paralyzed, in the real work and warfare to which we are called, and the thing that has got to be settled is this matter of what is the nature of the dispensation in which we live. If we have got some wrong ideas about that, then we are constantly turning in and back upon ourselves, not  making very much progress, a state of strife and strain and uncertainty and questions all the time.

Well then, I suggest to you that that which gives to this dispensation its particular character, that from which this dispensation derives its real nature, that is, as to God's mind, is in the fact that the Lord Jesus is in heaven and that He is known, only known, but known and ministered by the Holy Spirit. If you  and I really could grasp what that means we are going to be taken a long way. The first half is that the Lord Jesus is in heaven, that is, He is not on the earth. If He were on the earth, an entirely different system of things would obtain. You think about that. If He were on the earth, the same things would be happening as did happen when He was on the earth. Everybody who had aches and pains would be going after Him wherever He might be, if He were in Palestine or in any other part of the world, they would be going after Him with aches and pains to get these cleared up.

There would be people who would take all their temporal difficulties and troubles and situations to Him and all the problems of this life as here on the earth. And then the whole world situation, political and so on, to have this whole temporal realm of things dealt with, and it would resolve itself into a matter of Jesus constituting a temporal order. As they did then, so they would now, want Him to be the leader of a new political or social movement, to deal with the political situations and the social difficulties, and so on.

Supposing you heard that the Lord Jesus was just round the corner. You would be after Him like a shot with some of your troubles, perhaps your physical troubles, or domestic quarrels, to get them put right. What shall I do with my brother? How am I to deal with my wife, my husband? All that would be going on, and when He was here on the earth, they were all the time seeking to get Him to deal with a whole temporal state of things on this earth. We do not find very many coming to Him really with spiritual troubles when He was there, not directly and deliberately with spiritual troubles. Not many raised the question of sin and how they were to be forgiven and have it dealt with. He had to go behind to deal with that, refer to that; they did not.

Well, you see, Jesus is in heaven. He is not on earth,and that means that everything in this dispensation from the Divine standpoint is heavenly in its essence and nature. It is not firstly, primarily, but quite subserviently, of secondary account, that He touches the temporal situation. Until you and I have got this adjusted, we are going to be in trouble all the time. Why does not the Lord do this and that and the other thing, a thousand and one temporal things? Why does the Lord allow this and that and the other? "Our light affliction ..." (2 Cor. 4:17). "If we suffer with Him..." (Romans 8:17). Look at all the suffering that there is in the New Testament when you get past the Lord's days on the earth - the suffering among the Lord's people. Why, why does not the Lord come in? Yes, we would bring Him down to earth again, into that realm, but He is not coming down. He is in heaven, and that is a governing thing for this dispensation. He is in heaven,and everything primarily with Him is heavenly.

He is to be known and ministered by the Spirit, the Holy Spirit. He is not known as He was known in the days of His flesh. He is not known after the flesh. "Though we have known Christ after the flesh," said Paul, "yet now we know him so no more" (2 Cor. 5:16). He is not known temporally in the first instance. He is known and only known by the Holy Spirit and ministered to us, given to us, imparted to us, by the Holy Spirit alone, which means that this dispensation is preeminently spiritual in the mind of the Lord; heavenly and spiritual.

The Lord Jesus has been perfected, that is brought to completion, fullness, finality, and has been filled by God, filled unto all fullness, and has therefore become the pattern and the standard for believers. He is in heaven and in heavenly fullness as a Man, and has been set forth as God's heavenly pattern for the people of God. So that this dispensation is above all things, from God's standpoint, governed by this - our being brought to that which Christ is, to heavenly completeness and spiritual fullness. It is heavenly and it is spiritual, heavenly completeness, spiritual fullness, and the Lord is devoted to that object in this dispensation, and looks at and deals with everything in the light of that.

A Living Way

The next thing, in line with that, is that everything unto that end is a matter of moving in Divine, heavenly, spiritual life. It is the living way, the living way, of reaching God's end. That is, it has got to be, it can only be, by the Holy Spirit getting us there. We can never reach that goal, that object of God, Christ in heaven and in Divine fullness, we can never reach that goal of God along any lines, by any means, save by a definite work of the Holy Spirit, that is, by a living way. Man cannot do this; no means of man can accomplish it. You see, you may, for instance, attend meetings. You can attend them three times a day or more every day of your life as long as your life can possibly be and not be one iota spiritually advanced. It is not the number of meetings or the nature of the meetings that we attend, it is not the addresses to which we listen. It is not anything of that kind at all that gets us to God's end. It is the Holy Spirit doing something in a living way, our coming by the way of Divine life to Divine fullness.

~T. Austin-Sparks~

(continued with # 2)

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Fundamental Questions of the Christian Life # 15

Fundamental Questions of the Christian Life # 15

An Overwhelming Appreciation of Grace

The second thing that came out of this shattering was an overwhelming appreciation of grace. The Lord Jesus, on one occasion which you will recall, enunciated a great spiritual truth and law, when referring to one who was pouring out devotion at His feet. He said: 'Where much has been forgiven, there is much love. She loved much because she was forgiven much' (Luke 7:47).

Now Peter came into the meaning of that spiritual principle - or it came into Peter. What an appreciation of grace! Look at the first letter that goes by his name. In that quite brief document, which you can read through from beginning to end in ten or fifteen minutes, Peter speaks of grace no fewer than ten times, and in every case the context of that word is tremendous.

Here, for instance, he speaks of "the manifold grace of God" (1 Peter 4:10). Grace is really the theme of this letter. It governs everything - every department of the Christian life. Yes, Peter knew what he was talking about: he was speaking out of experience. It was this tremendous appreciation of grace that made him the servant that he became. But he had to be baptized into that: that is, he had to be baptized into the agony of suffering, of self-discovery - of the discovery of his own unworthiness, weakness, failure. The waves of despair had to go over his head, in order to bring him to this place where grace was his theme, grace accounted for everything, grace became the great motive of his ministry.

A man cannot go through an experience of that kind, he cannot go through a spiritual history like that, he cannot go through such depths, without being caused to reflect deeply. It is not just our imagination, or reading something into the story, to say that, when Peter was recovered, restored, brought back into all the blessings of fellowship with his Lord, and given his commission, he must have thought something like this: 'Just imagine it - that such a one as I am, and have proved to be; such a one as I, who have done what I have done - could any man sink to deeper depths of shame, disgrace, dishonor? - that such a one as I should be called by the Lord at all, when He knew all about me beforehand! That day when He came along by the seashore, when I was engaged in my business, and He called me - that day He knew everything that there was to know about me!' Peter could indeed say with Paul: 'He called me by His grace' (Gal. 1:15). That is consolation, that is comfort, that is help; that makes service possible for anybody.

The Training of Grace

Anyone other than Jesus would probably have washed their hands of Peter and said, 'I shall never make anything of this man - I can do nothing with him: he is incorrigible.' The Holy Spirit has caused to be written in fiery letters, for all to see, all this blundering and blurting of Simon, all his rebuking of the Lord, correcting the Lord, telling the Lord, 'Thou shalt never...' All this - and then the Lord's infinite patience with that man. When John writes "Having loved His own which were in the world, He loved them unto the end" (John 13:1), there is an immense amount behind that statement in relation to this man alone, to say nothing of the rest of them. That is no small thing; it is wonderful. Think of all the training, all the infinite patience and care and kindness, and the going on - just going on. This was the training of grace do you not think Peter remembered that? I am sure he thought back over those three-and-a-half years, and how they culminated in his denial. 'Oh, what patience He showed with me! To think that I am here today at all, and having a place of honor in His service! What doest it not say for His patience, His forbearance, His longsuffering, His love!'

The Endowments of Grace

But then, as though that were not enough, grace brought endowments. First of all, the mighty, inclusive gift of the anointing Holy Spirit, and all that that implied! We have so often said that the anointing of the Holy Spirit implies that God commits Himself. It is as though He would say: 'I am going to join Myself with that man or that woman, and I am going on with them, for My Son's sake.' That is the basic meaning of the gift of the Holy Spirit.

But grace brought all those other things, all those new capacities, which come by the Spirit in the new creation. Are they not marvelous in Peter? Remember, he was a fisherman. Although that does not necessarily mean that he was an uneducated man, they did say about Peter and John that they were "unlearned and ignorant men" (Acts 4:13). At any rate, certain people, who considered themselves to be otherwise, said that of him in Jerusalem. Have you ever studied that discourse of Peter's on the day of Pentecost? Many years ago I made a list of all the subjects mentioned in it, and I was amazed what a catalog I had. Almost every sentence or part sentence touches on something which, being gathered into the whole, adds up to a most comprehensive statement. There is great understanding of the Old Testament Scriptures, wonderful insight into the Word of God and the things of God. We have already referred to that critical day in Jerusalem, when Peter's counsel, supported by James with citation of the Old Testament prophets, marked a turning point in the history of the Church.

And if that is not enough, read Peter's letters. I do not know how, apart from Divine revelation, Peter knew about the atomic age! Long, long centuries before the splitting of the atom, he talked, in language which we all understand now, about 'the heavens being on fire,' 'the elements melting with fervent heat,' 'all these things being dissolved.' (2 Peter 3:10-12). That is very up to date, is it not? Where did he get it? There are endowments by the Holy Spirit of understanding, intelligence and knowledge. And there are endowments of endurance. Here is a man who breaks down at the taunt of a serving maid, and vehemently denies his Lord. But look at him here - "when they saw the boldness!..." And there are many other endowments which we cannot now stay to tabulate. All this is the work of grace. Yes, Peter came into a large appreciation of grace.

The Dynamic of Service

This leads us to our sub-title: "The Dynamic of Service.' What is that? Surely it is the response of the heart to a love like that! That is what made Peter the servant of Jesus Christ. It may        be that he was fearful about trusting his love, and so dared not rise to the great word that the Master was using; but he meant it. He was trying to go as far as he could, and in the event he went further - he went beyond his own language. His response turned out better than he perhaps feared it would be. It was a mighty response to love - and that is the dynamic of service.

Now the grace that lies behind our being called by Jesus Christ into fellowship with Himself, the grace that lies behind His training of us, His dealing with us in longsuffering and forbearance, the grace that lies behind His gracious gift of the Holy Spirit, and all that goes with that gift, represents endowment for us all! This is not exclusive to Peter or his class, he is but representative. All these things are for the Church, and we, as organic parts of the Church, inherit the endowments, as we inherit the calling of grace. These things are true for us all. Because of the grace of God, every one of us can be a servant of God.

To be called at all, did we but know it, is the most marvelous thing that could ever have happened to us. And He calls us, knowing us through and through. I do not know how much you know about yourself, but if you knew yourself as He knows you, you would go out and weep bitterly, you would fall into the depths of despair. And if He should then come to you, in that day of self-discovery, in your despair and brokenness, and should mention your name, showing that you were still in His thought and love, would that not be a great step of grace? - and would it not qualify you to be a witness? Should He, moreover, with all His knowledge of you, and all your despair of yourself, give to you the great gift of His Holy Spirit, with all the wonderful capacities that come with that, would it not be a glorious thing? That is how witnesses are made, how servants are made. How poor our service must be, if there is not an answering love begotten in us by this over-whelming consciousness of the grace of God!

That is the dynamic of service. The Lord may take us through a hard school; but "wisdom is justified of all her children" (Luke 7:35), and in the end you will say 'He was right; He knew what He was doing - He did the right thing!'

~T. Austin-Sparks~

(The End)

Friday, June 9, 2017

Fundamental Questions of the Christian Life # 14

Fundamental Questions of the Christian Life # 14

Need for Self-Discovery

What was his greatest need? To begin with, it was self-discovery, followed by loss of self-trust. And those were the very things that happened in the hard school of experience into which Simon Peter was put by his Lord. For the truth is this: that all who are going to be of real service to the Lord must be brought, sooner or later, to the place where they lose all trust in themselves. Before they can do the work for which they have been brought into this world, the work for God and the work of God, they will have to come to the place where they have lost all self-trust. Peter teaches us that lesson, perhaps, above all others, in relation to service.

See this man on the day of Pentecost. Is that service? Is he now a servant of Jesus Christ? See him in the house of Cornelius - another great turning point in the history of Christianity. See him in the Council of Jerusalem: hear what he says and how he is deferred to. "Simon hath said ..." This man emerged as a great servant of Jesus Christ - but only in virtue of having emerged from this deep and terrible experience in which he lost his self-trust.

If you have read this twenty-first chapter of John in a version that brings out the different words that were used by the Lord and by Peter for "love," you may have wondered why it was that Peter baulked at the word that the Lord was using, and refused to use it. When the Lord Jesus said, "Lovest thou Me?" He used the highest word that could be used for "love," but Peter answered with another word of a lower order altogether. Why would he not rise to the word that the Lord was using? I think that he had lost his self-trust; that he was remembering: "If all shall be offended in Thee, I will never be offended" (Matt. 26:33) - and then the denial. Had something in him been touched and weakened and broken, that made him feel, "I dare not declare myself to be on that highest level of love?" I may be wrong, but I seem to discern that. But at length the Lord Himself came down to Peter's level, and took him up on His own ground with the lower word, as if to say: 'All right, if you can only go so far, well, go as far as you can. Commit yourself to that. I will take you up on that; I will go on with you on that.' Whether that interpretation is true or not, there is little doubt that Peter had been touched on his strong point of self-assurance and self-confidence, and was a broken man in that realm. And therefore, becoming the servant that he did become, he says to us: "That is the way of service. That is the first law."

That may sound hard, but it ought to sound comforting. Are you having a hard time? If as you aspire to be of some use to the Lord, if you find yourself being emptied and broken, and taken through a hard school where you feel that you cannot stand up to it all, remember, that is the way of service. If you have any degree of self-confidence, if you think that you can "do it," if you can "do all the talking," if you are the first to take things into your hands, let me say: You will not be of service to the Lord until that is dealt with! No; we have to come to the place where we cannot and we will not, unless compelled by Another and not driven by our own impulses.

Peter's need was of a Master. But, in order to have a Master, a man like that has to be utterly broken. And that happened to Peter. Not only is it recorded that he went out and wept bitterly, after his terrible failure and breakdown and in his self-discovery, but it is recorded that the risen Lord, after sending a message to His disciples, then specified that it should be conveyed to Peter. The heavenly messenger said: "Go, tell His disciples and Peter ..." (Mark 16:7). One thing that impresses you in those resurrection appearances of the Lord Jesus is how He knew all that was going on. He knew, for instance, exactly how Thomas had been behaving and talking, even though He Himself had not been visibly present. He could tell them just what had been going on inside of them, and all they had been doing. And so He knew about Peter, too, and what had been happening with him. Somewhere, in his brokenness, his humiliation, his despair, was Peter, necessitating that the Lord should say: 'Go, tell My disciples, and Peter...' Was he not a disciple? Why specify? Surely the reason is obvious. The man needs some special help: he is broken, he is shattered; a special message must to to him - he must be mentioned by name. 'Say to Peter... The Lord has not only sent a general message, but He has sent it to you - He has mentioned you by name.'

Just think how you would feel if you were in his position and condition. 'The Lord - the Lord! The last time I saw the Lord was when He looked at me. It was that look that broke me, that shattered me, as I was denying Him. That look I shall never forget. He looked at me.' The word that is used there about the Lord 'looking upon' Peter (Luke 22:61) is a rather strong word. There are different words for "look," but this word means 'to look upon attentively or fixedly.' His eyes rested upon him, held him, went right through him. That was the last time Peter had seen the Lord, and that look had done its work. Those eyes knew him, and now Peter had come to know himself as the Lord knew him. It is a terrible thing when that happens. And to think that the Lord should say, "...and Peter!" 'Could He ever think of me again? Could He ever have anything to do with me again? Do I still stand with Him in the company of His disciples?'

The Mastery of Christ

Now the point is this: that this is the making of a servant - this is the training of a servant of Jesus Christ. This came; and, having come, it led to two things. Firstly, it led to the mastery of Christ. The real mastery of Christ, though we may call Him Master and Lord, is not established until our own mastery of ourselves has been shattered and broken. How often did Peter, who called Jesus 'Master' and 'Lord,' seek to dictate to Him, to tell Him - the Lord - what He ought to do and what He ought not to do - what He might do and what He was not allowed to do! Yes, we can call Him 'Lord,' and we can call Him 'Master.' But the way of real service is that He become Master in reality, and that necessitates our brokenness.

Look at Peter on the day of Pentecost, and afterward, and look right on to his letters. Listen to him speaking; read what he writes. Jesus is Master of this man, now. That is the first thing that came out of this shattering. It is a law of usefulness and service to the Lord - make no mistake about it. If you aspire to service, if you are thinking in terms of Christian work, if you are desirous of being of real value to the Lord - put it how you will - you can take it that the way is here 'writ large for all to see.' This man Peter stands out as a servant of Jesus Christ of no mean order, and the way by which he became that was the way of Jesus Christ becoming his absolute Master. He stands for the great principle of submission to Christ, without which there can be no usefulness to Him. Our value to the Lord really begins - not - when He becomes our Saviour, but when He becomes our Lord. Those two things can happen at the same time, but with many they stand far apart.

~T. Austin-Sparks~

(continued with # 15 - An Overwhelming Appreciation of Grace

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Fundamental Questions of the Christian Life # 13

Fundamental Questions of the Christian Life # 13

The Imperative Dynamic of Christian Service

Read: John 21:15-17.

"Lovest Thou Me?"

In reading these verses, it is difficult not to believe that the Lord Jesus had in mind something that happened earlier, and was probably referring to it. I mean the incident recorded in Matthew 26:33: "Peter answered and said unto Him, If all shall be offended in Thee, I will never be offended." "Lovest thou Me more than these?"

There are four main aspects of the Christian life - of course, with many subsidiary aspects. We have been considering three of them, and shall make reference to them again shortly. These three lead up to the fourth, and find their expression in it. This fourth aspect is service. Service is the great inclusive issue of everything. You notice that all four of the Gospels head up to commission and service. Service is the issue, therefore, of the three-and-a-half years of our Lord's ministry, and especially of the relationship subsisting between Himself and the disciples during that period. All that which He had said to them, all that which He had allowed and caused them to see, had this matter of service in view. He was working toward the day when He would have gone to Heaven and would continue His work through them. He was laying the foundation for that service. Everything had testimony in the world in view.

Now that word "service" is greatly misunderstood and misinterpreted. It is usually confined to certain specific forms. People speak of 'going into Christian service,' or 'the Lord's work,' or some such expression, by which they mean some specific activity - either to be a 'missionary' abroad, or a 'minister' at home, or some other particular form of Christian work. But that is a misinterpretation of the 'service.'

In the New Testament, service is contemplated in relation to the Church, individual service is always a related matter. It is the Church that is here to fulfill the ministry, and individuals are never looked upon in the New Testament as having detached, unrelated service. The great comprehensive conception is that of the Church as the Body of Christ. Immediately you contemplate that, your ideas of service must be completely revolutionized. For in a physical body the majority of the functions are not specific at all, but are vital, essential, indispensable. The whole service of the body depends upon them: the comparatively few specific functions can only possibly operate and fulfill their office by way of the countless unspecified functions of the body. And that is the New Testament conception of the Church and the Church's vocation.

We need, therefore, to reconsider this matter of service, because when we relegate the work to certain people only, we forget, or overlook, the fact that it is impossible to be in the Body of Christ and not have a function. Everyone is supposed to be a functional part of the Church. Nothing is independent, unrelated, or separate.

Peter: A Representative Servant

Let us now look at the basis, constitution, and dynamic of service. In this we are going to be much helped by Peter. You notice that the fourth Gospel, the last of all to be written, closes with an incident involving Peter in relation to the matter of service. Peter is a representative servant: he embodies all the essentials of a true servant of Jesus Christ. And in a very real sense Peter represents the Church. We shall therefore all Peter to interpret this matter for us, as we consider him - the man himself, his training, and his dynamic of service.

It is possible, of course, to allow Peter to be completely overshadowed by the Apostle Paul. If that has happened, I would suggest a very profitable piece of work: that is, to collect together every passage in the New Testament where Simon Peter occurs, noting both what was said to him, and what he said. If you put all those fragments together, you will find that you have quite a rich biography, and you will have a very good manual of instruction in the matter of service. Peter was the first of the disciples to be called by the Lord; he always thereafter held the foremost place among the disciples; and here he is the last individual to be mentioned in the Gospels. Peter has a very large place in the New Testament, a very important place. Upon him hung some of the greatest crises in the history of the early church.

The Man Himself

We look at the man himself, because we can only recognize the spiritual principles of service as we are able to recognize the man. You will understand what I mean by that as we go on. If you get a full length portrait of Simon Peter, and watch him with the Gospels in your hand, you will begin to learn a very great deal about the principles of Christian service.

Simon Peter could never be present anywhere without it being known. If ever there was an opportunity to speak or to act, he took it. His tongue, his hands and his feet often ran away with his judgment. His soul on the emotional and volitional side predominated, and very often left his judgment waiting for an opportunity to assert itself, later on, to his discomfiture! Peter was capable of tremendous variations - from height to depth - from the highest exaltation to the lowest depression and despair. This man was never neutral. He never dealt in neutral colors; you could always distinguish him quite clearly. No man of all those associated with our Lord was so often corrected, and yet so irrepressible. His motives were right, his intentions were good; but he was always just saying the wrong thing and doing the wrong thing.

You notice that with Simon Peter the personal pronouns were much in evidence: and yet with all this there is no trace of vice. When you sum it all up, you have to say some things that may sound unkind; but it is just here that we are on the way to understanding what true service for Christ will mean. The things which stand out in the case of Simon Peter - self-confidence,self-sufficiency, self-assertiveness - are all because of self-ignorance. The Lord Jesus Himself, at the end of this chapter in which our question is found, puts it in three words: "When thou wast young, thou girdest thyself,and walkest whither thou wouldest." Those last three words sum up Peter: 'whither thou wouldest.' That is the man in brief. Such a man, if he were going to be of any use to the Lord, would have to go through a very hard school. If he was to be constituted according to the greatest Servant that God ever had - the Lord Jesus - something very drastic must happen.

~T. Austin-Sparks~

(continued with # 14 - Need For Self-Discovery