What It Means To Be A Christian # 13
(b) Relatedness, continued,
No wonder, then, that we find a poor, mean, miserable measure of spiritual life at Corinth at that time. Thank God, we have another side to the story later on. They evidently got over it, on the basis, the principle, of the Cross. Paul's second letter to them gives a very different picture of the Corinthian church. But Christ cannot be divided, and all divisions, from individual differences between two or more Christians, right up to the great divisions between major Christian groups, are a contradiction of Christ, and no wonder there is spiritual poverty, weakness, ineffectiveness, and lack of registration and impact upon this world. The devil has triumphed there. We must take note of that. It is a great battle is this matter of fellowship, for the very reason that all the evil forces are set against it. Paul says that this is a matter about which we have to be very diligent: "giving diligence to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Eph. 4:3).
(c) Purity of Heart
I close by just mentioning a third principle, without enlarging upon it. It is the principle of purity of heart. You and I will not grow at all with the increase of Christ, toward the fullness of Christ, unless we maintain a very pure spirit. By that I mean an open heart: one that is free from prejudice, free from suspicion; a readiness to receive, an ability to adjust; no final closure, even though we may have been brought up in a certain way. If the Lord has 'more light and truth to break forth from His Word,' we are open to it, we have not come to a final position that we know it all, we have got it all, we are in it all. A pure spirit means an open heart, a ready spontaneity of response to every bit of light that God gives; obedience instant, without argument. Upon this hangs very much more than we may imagine.
The Eternal Prospect of The Christian
We saw at the beginning that the Christian life is not something which just springs up in this particular era - the Christian era, as it is called - but that it dates right back to eternity past. We saw that it was designed by God in His eternal counsels - the New Testament has much to say about this - and that that eternal Purpose and design is pressing into this present dispensation in a very definite and particular way.
Now we are to see that the future eternity is also pressing into this dispensation. The future eternity is governing the present, is shaping and explaining the present. God is not only working onward. Really, the onward aspect of Divine activities is our side of things. God is, so to speak, working 'backward.' From His side of things He is always working back to His full thought in eternity past. He is bringing us on, but from this other standpoint He is really bringing us back.
The Prospective Element In The New Testament
So we come to this matter of the eternal prospect of the Christian. We have to realize - not that it is difficult to do so - that there is a very large prospective element in the New Testament: that is, the New Testament is always looking on. In the New Testament everything is dominated by the ages to come. God's conception was an eternal one, not just one of time; it is something far, far too big to be realized in fullness in any mere period of time. It certainly, therefore, cannot be realized in the lifetime of any person. It outbounds time. This is "from eternity to eternity," and it requires timelessness for its full realization.
This, of course, explains a great deal. It explained the very nature of the Christian life and of Christian service. A very big factor in the ways of God with His people, with Christians, is that of experience. God puts a great deal of value upon experience. Yet it often seems that, just when we are beginning to profit by experience, the end comes, and we are called away from this life, and all the long and full and deep experience has really had no adequate expression. There is something about this that would be a problem. If God puts so much value upon experience, and then when we have got it we cannot use it, it seems like a contradiction. It requires an extension somewhere, somehow, in order to turn to account all that deep experience which God has taken so much pains to produce. And so this eternal prospect explains God's ways with us in the path of deep and deepening experience.
Then as to the work of God. Well, the work is difficult, it is hard; the progress is all too slow;and though you may do much, and fill your life, when you have had all the days that can be allotted you and have spent yourself to the last drop, what have you done? What does it amount to, at most? We have to say - little, comparatively little. There is so much more to be done, and every successive generation of Christian workers has the same story to tell. On we go, on we go, and we never overtake, we never reach anything like fullness in this life. Something more is required to make perfect both our imperfect lives and our imperfect work.
And then another factor, which is not a small one, is that God seems to be so much more concerned with the worker even than with the work. This of course creates the perplexities of Christian life and service. If God were really concerned with our Christian work, surely He ought never to allow us to be laid aside from it, especially repeatedly or for long periods, and He certainly ought not to allow us to die 'prematurely,' as we would say. If the work is everything, then He ought to keep us on full strength all our days,and extend our days to a full period; but He does not. So many of His choicest are not able to be in action, to serve, in the way in which Christian service is ordinarily thought of; and even those who are fully in action are conscious that the real need in the work of God is for their own deeper knowledge of God Himself - that God is concerned with them, even more than He is with their work.
What does this say? All that discipline, chastening, trial, testing, that we go through under the hand of God: is all that just for now? Surely He is preparing for something more. He is concerned with men and with women - with people - quite a much as, if not more than, with what they do for Him. This, of course, will never be taken as an excuse for our not working to full capacity, but it does all point to something more. There is nothing perfect or complete so long as death remains. You will remember the argument which the Apostle develops in the Letter to the Hebrews concerning the priesthood of the Old Testament. A priest of the old dispensation could bring nothing to finality because he died and had to hand on to another, and in like manner he himself never attained to finality; and so it went on. The argument is that, because of death, nothing was made perfect. But He - Jesus, our High Priest - had made and does make things perfect, because He "ever liveth." It requires an endless life - "The power of an indissoluble life" - to reach fullness. That is clearly shown in the Scripture.
You see, the picture of immortality which the Bible gives us is a very wonderful one, and one, of course, which in our present order of things we cannot understand. The picture of immortality which the Bible gives us is that of new productions coming about without the dying of the old. Our present order is that everything new comes out of a preceding death. Seed, flower, everything has to die, in order to produce or make way for something new. That has been the natural order of things since Adam fell. And the heart of this present dispensation is the great truth of Jesus Christ, the "corn of wheat," falling into the ground and dying, that there should be a production on a larger scale. That is the order of this dispensation. But that is not the order of the coming eternity. The picture of immortality there, as given in the Word, is of trees producing new branches, new leaves, new fruit, and yet the old never dying. Fruit is brought to perfection without any death at all. That is rather wonderful, is it not?
(continued with # 14)