The Spirit's Work in the Building Up of the Assembly
We purpose taking up this subject very briefly, God helping us, as it is unfolded in the Epistle to the Ephesians.
James tells us that the body without the spirit is dead, referring to the human body and the human spirit. In the same way the Spirit of God is necessary for the life, activity, and manifestation of life in the Body of Christ. But the body of Christ is likewise spoken of in Ephesians as the household of God, a holy temple in the Lord, God's dwelling place and shrine, His assembly on the earth.
It is as the Holy Spirit is active in the assembly, that the mind of God will be expressed by the assembly. The assembly is not a machine, but a living intelligent organism, made up of the intelligence and life of each member of it; it is as response is made to the Spirit that God's mind for the assembly can be carried out. How vastly important our subject is, and how feeble must our best attempts be to state it.
It is by the Spirit that the assembly is brought into existence, and by the same Spirit the assembly is maintained.
The Holy Spirit of Promise
The Lord in those memorable chapters in John's gospel—chapters 13-17—spoke much to His loved disciples, ere He left them, of the coming of the Holy Spirit consequent on His going to His Father. In Acts 1:4 we are reminded that the early disciples did not receive the Holy Spirit one by one, but that they were commanded to assemble themselves at Jerusalem there to await the promise of the Father, the blessed Holy Spirit of God. It is of the utmost importance that it should be seen how the Spirit came on the day of Pentecost, as it clearly proves that our individual responsibility as Christians flows from our corporate position as part of God's assembly. The Spirit came and formed the believers into one body—Christ being the Head in heaven, the believers, the body on earth.
Once the assembly is formed individuals are added one by one, but they are added to the assembly, and not merely indwelt as individuals. That we are indwelt is blessedly true, and consequent on believing on Christ, receiving the Gospel of their salvation, believers are sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise; sealed, claimed by God for ever for Himself; the Holy Spirit betokening what character He would impart to those sealed, the earnest of our inheritance, the living proof, the taste of the believer of what will be His portion in God's presence for ever.
Access by One Spirit to the Father
In Ephesians we need to follow carefully the ‘we' of the Jewish believers and the ‘ye' of the Gentile believers. It was no new thought to the Jew that he was in relation to God. The tabernacle and temple services constantly kept this before him in typical fashion. But it was a new thing for the Gentile to be brought into blessing equally with the Jew.
That the Gentile believer should be blessed equally with the Jewish could only be brought to pass in and through Christ, and that by an absolutely new range of blessing affecting them both. Christ's death brought the law to an end as a MEANS of life . No one ever maintained life before God on the law principle. Yet the moral law is never set aside, and in Christianity love is the mighty controlling power, “love is the fulfilling of the law” (Rom. 13:10), and it is by the Spirit's power “that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the spirit.” But the believer is not under law, though as led of the Spirit he fulfils its righteousness. So great is the breakdown of the flesh, that only in NEW creation can man be blessed, and in new creation “there is neither Greek nor Jew” (Col. 3:11).
In Christianity we come into new creation and therefore with new relationships. Not the least of these is that of sons to the Father. To have access to the Father means that those who have access are sons. If I have access to the King I have access to him who is a father, but to have access to him as father I must be his child. So in Christ Jesus all—Jew and Gentile—are brought nigh by His precious blood. He is our peace, not only settling every question that lay between us and God, but doing it in such fashion, and blessing us with such blessings that go far beyond settling variance between us and God, blessings of an entirely new and positive nature and connected with the purpose of God, that the middle wall of partition is broken down, and of Jew and Gentile in Christ one new man is made.
It is said there was a wall of partition in the court of the temple, pierced with gates, which admitted a Jew, but which meant death to a Gentile, if he ventured to pass through. How sweet that all restraint is gone, and that Jew and Gentile are lifted into heights that are outside of every feeling of racial animosity and pride, so that we read, “Through Him [Christ] we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father” (Eph. 2:18).
The Mystery of Christ Revealed by the Spirit
Again is emphasized the wonderful place the Gentile has as well as the Jew in Christianity. This mystery was not made known in other ages, and was revealed by the Holy Spirit to the holy apostles and prophets.
Judaism was exclusive, and treated the Gentile as an alien from the commonwealth of Israel and stranger to the covenants of promise, which indeed he was. But Christianity has altered all that, no longer will the Jew in this dispensation enlightened by the Gospel look to Jerusalem as the centre, and earth as the sphere of his blessing. The believer looks to Christ in glory and finds his true home in the assembly on earth. Consequent on Christ taking His place on high and sending the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, believers are fellow-heirs of these spiritual blessings: members of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ by the Gospel. But stress in this passage is laid on the fact that Gentiles (see Eph. 3:6) were admitted to these privileges as much as the Jew.
How formative must these thoughts have been in the souls of the believers, and as they met in the exercises of the assembly how they must have put a deep mark on their worship. No wonder that the Apostle Paul glories in his commission to proclaim “among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Eph. 3:8).
“Strengthened with Might by His Spirit in the Inner Man” (Eph. 3:16)
Here we find the Apostle bending his knees in prayer to God, the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, that the believers might according to the riches of God's glory, “be strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man” (Eph. 3:16). Evidently the Apostle realized that the presentation of the truth in set terms would not effect God's purpose, that only as the Holy Spirit in mighty power gives perception to the believer through deep exercise of soul can such be attained.
And for what did the Apostle desire this strengthening of the inner man? It was that Christ might dwell in their hearts by faith—wonderful truth—that rooted and grounded in love they might be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth and length, and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge. Mark that expression, “with all saints”. How the Spirit throughout the Word emphasizes that Christianity is not an individual thing! It puts the believer into relation with the whole, and spite of failure this is still true, though failure renders the expression of it very difficult.
We are not told what the breadth and length and height and depth are. They define that which is indefinable. They measure that which is immeasurable. When we have said what we can about them we have said very little. We are on the edge of a vast ocean of divine purpose and love.
Breadth —it takes in all saints.
Length —it stretches back to distant ages when God, before time began, purposed us for blessing in Christ; it stretches forward to coming ages, when throughout eternity the saints will be in all the blessing and fullness of these purposes in Christ.
Depth —this reminds us of all the distance and shame and suffering the blessed Lord went through in order to open up all this righteously and give effect to God's wonderful scheme of blessing.
Height —we look up and see Him, who went into the lowest depth, now in the highest height of glory, and the believer made to sit in heavenly places in Christ.
The love of Christ —that which made all this possible to us, and introduced us into it—that love which went into death itself, and which passeth knowledge, infinite, eternal, divine. What exercise for our hearts! No wonder the heart of the Apostle, surcharged with divine joy, has to find relief in doxology and worship.
The Unity of the Spirit
The believer is bid to endeavour “to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). This is a unity the Spirit makes, a unity we cannot make or break, though as individuals we may fail to answer to the practice of it. That is to say it is explained that “there is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling” (Eph. 4:4). If I am a Christian I am linked up with every other Christian as a member of the body of Christ. This is a unity I cannot make, nor can I by any action of mine cease to be a member of that body, cease to be linked up in life with Christ, the Head, and the members of His body, of which I am a necessary and integral part.
But remember there is not only one body but also one Spirit, and it is well to keep these two thoughts together. The body without the Spirit is dead, and it is only as the Spirit is active and has His way with us that the body is effectual in carrying out the mind of Christ for it. It is in seeking to be under the Spirit's guidance that we shall endeavour to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
Lowliness and meekness and long-suffering and forbearance in love are qualities the Spirit would produce in us to this end. How happy if the seven ones in Ephesians 4:1-6, have a large place in our thoughts, and we adjust ourselves by the Spirit's power in relation to them.
“Grieve Not the Holy Spirit of God” (Eph. 4:30).
We must refrain from lengthy comments or else the space at our disposal will not nearly suffice. There is so much fullness in the Word, and the theme is tempting.
Suffice it to say that once the doctrinal part proper of the epistle is passed the Apostle puts right practice before the believers on the ground of their having put off “the old man, corrupt according to the deceitful lusts”, and having put “on the new man which after God is created in righteousness and holiness”. These exhortations to truthfulness, industry in providing means for sustenance and the help of others, purity of speech, are based on the ground that the believers were members of each other (see Eph. 4:25). Let it be observed the believer is “sealed unto the day of redemption”, that is, till Christ comes to claim His own at His coming. We cannot grieve the Spirit away—what a comfort and stay!—but we are exhorted not to grieve Him. May we pay heed to this.
“Filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 4:15)
To be “filled with the Spirit” does not mean that one believer has more of the Spirit than another, but that the Spirit has more of one believer than another. That is to say, one believer may be walking carelessly, going on in a cold worldly state, and the Spirit of God is grieved, and not free to fill the heart with the blessed things of God. On the other hand, a believer may through yielding to the Lord in his life have such a filling of the Spirit that it can only find expression in praise and worship, “making melody in your heart of the Lord” (Eph. 5:18). Here we get the Spirit of joy and praise.
There is a teaching abroad that makes this filling to be a subsequent thing to the gift of the Spirit to the believer, and to be brought about by a special act of surrender and faith, and that the believer who has thus, as they say, received the baptism of the Spirit, lives on a higher plane than the ordinary Christian. We are assured that this teaching, whilst it is often the outcome of a sincere desire to be heavenly minded, is mixed up with erroneous teaching that in the end fixes the attention of the believer upon his attainments instead of on Christ and His glories.
“Praying . . . in the Spirit” (Eph. 6:18)
Note the earnestness of this exhortation. “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication FOR ALL SAINTS”. And, further, that Paul might make known boldly “the mystery of the gospel”.
Doubtless we are right to pray about our temporal needs and difficulties, but those who get no further than that don't touch this. This is expressed as the heart sees the vast field of truth concerning Christ and the Church, the Head and the Body, the heavenly relationships of the believer with the Father, that such prayer for oneself and “for all saints” is made. Do we know anything of it?
We have practically only pointed out every place where the Holy Spirit is mentioned in this wonderful Epistle to the Ephesians. Space forbids anything but the most meagre and inadequate comment, but if the reader is led to study this subject first hand and meditate upon it, we are assured that great blessing must be the result.
How can I be connected with a system which is allied to the State, or with a system seeking a place in this world, or with a system substituting man's ordering of the assembly instead of God's, if I lay hold of the wonderful truth of the Spirit's work in the building up of the assembly? May God give every one of us faithfulness to Him, subjection to the headship of Christ and dependence on the Holy Spirit. It is the praise of God and not that of men that really counts.
Extracted from “Christ and the Assembly”