1. Fellowship with the Lord

Check Your Panoply

OVER FORTY YEARS AGO, in introducing an exposition on CELESTIAL WARFARE, this magazine published the following fundamental facts from which we now quote:

“We wish to correct the impression that we teach that the sixth of Ephesians refers to doctrine rather than to deportment. It is wrong to infer from the negative, that we do not wrestle with blood and flesh, the positive, is that we wrestle with spiritual powers. Our conflict with them is not wrestling, for it is carried out with arrows and a shield and a complete suit of armor and a sword. Wrestling was done without clothing, certainly not in armor. “The sixth of Ephesians deals not with our position in Christ, but with our deportment in the Lord. It has no connection with the new humanity (or “new man”), which describes our relations to mankind, with whom we do not wrestle. We have had too close a contact with the blazing arrows of our enemy to imagine that our place in Christ will exempt us from this terrific warfare. Being in Christ is not enough to equip us for this warfare, much less is it cause for exemption. It is in the Lord, and victory depends on practical righteousness and strength and faith.”

In our new series on the panoply of God, we will first attempt to demonstrate that we all are in dire need of this spiritual suit of armor; then we will take up the necessity of checking it daily.

In the United States, protection in the political and social spheres is guaranteed by the Constitution, and almost everybody knows that Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness range first among the inalienable rights. Many noble men have dedicated all their time and energies to defending them and making them known elsewhere. Mankind has been very receptive to these ideas since every human being wants to enjoy a maximum of what is beneficial and advantageous. Everyone wishes to get hold of anything that might do them good. The Creator Himself has planted this yearning in the heart of humanity, as a part of His plan to draw all His creatures to His own heart in due time.
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In the spiritual sphere, also, we should be aware of our inalienable rights: Our life is hidden together with Christ in God. Whenever Christ, our Life, should be manifested, then we also shall be manifested together with Him in glory. This fact is clearly stated in Colossians 3:3,4.

And there is liberty for us as well: The Father rescues us out of the jurisdiction of Darkness, and transports us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, as we can see from Colossians 1: 13.

Happiness is ours, too: even as David is telling of the happiness of the man to whom God is reckoning righteousness apart from acts: “Happy the man to whom the Lord by no means should be reckoning sin!” (Rom.4:6,8).

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness are certainly granted by the Constitution, but only to those who stay within this country. The government of the United States will always try to protect its citizens abroad, but this cannot be guaranteed when they go to certain foreign countries which follow a different way of life.

In the spiritual sphere, likewise, separation from God brings us drowsiness among the dead (Eph.5:14), destruction (Phil.3: 19), and shame; the very things from which we wish to escape. This does not mean that we have lost our inalienable rights, but that we have entered a territory where the way of life is more or less different from that of citizens walking worthily of the evangel of Christ (Phil.1:27). Therefore, let us be aware of any trap of the Adversary; many saints have already been caught alive by him. This was true in Paul’s day; it is even more apparent in the perilous periods of these last days in which we are now living (2 Tim.2:26; 3:1).

Since God is using the experiences we have in our lifetime as a means of preparing us for our high place and service among the celestials (Eph.2:6), He sees to it that everyone gets sufficient knowledge of evil to enable him to fully appreciate the very opposite of evil in the future. Even believers cannot be spared a sufficient experience of evil (though this does not preclude the right to lead a mild and quiet life in all devoutness and gravity; for this is ideal and welcome in the sight of God, as we will see later).

We do not know in detail what might do us good and what is beneficial and advantageous to us. But God knows, since He created us the way we are and with this yearning for happiness in our hearts. His final aim for us is our own good, and He is the only One Who knows the way to this goal. So we ought to be eager to follow this way . . . and follow it in its details, all the more because we all concur with Him in that we, too, desire what is for our own good.

In His Word, God gives us ample information on what might lead to loss of fellowship with Him, and also on what serves toward deepening our relations with Him. His plans for His creatures in general, and particularly for us, are of the greatest interest to every reader of His Word. We will, therefore, concentrate our efforts on walking in the path suited to transcendence, which the apostle Paul has shown us in his epistles (1 Cor.12:31).

It is very significant that the evangel for the first Jewish believers after Pentecost was called the way. When Saul was breathing out threatening and murder against the disciples of the Lord, he obtained authority from the chief priests to arrest them, punish them, and lock them up in jails. For this purpose, he went to Damascus with letters to the synagogues, so that, if he should be finding any who are of the way, both men and women, he may be leading them bound to Jerusalem (Acts 9:1,2); and he used to take part in the voting by ballot when they were condemned to death (Acts 26:10).

We are revering the same God and Father as those early Jewish believers. The same Saviour, Christ, died for our sakes on Golgotha; and we, too, are saved from indignation through Him (Rom.5:9). Yet there is a distinctive factor by which our way is distinguished from theirs: and this is grace. Believers today are the recipients of God’s unadulterated love to a greater extent than Israel was in the past or will be in the future. The Jewish believers had only pardon for sins and were on probation, as is clearly demonstrated by the examples of the 10,000 talent debtor (Matt.18:35) and of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5). That there was no security nor guarantee is emphasized by Peter in his first letter (4:18): “If the just one is hardly being saved, where will the irreverent and the sinner appear?” We, however, are justified gratuitously in His grace which superexceeds where sin increases (Rom.3:21; 5:20).

During the transition (before the present secret administration of the grace of God became effective) the special blessings and powerful deeds of the impending eon, such as signs and miracles, occurred through the hands of both the apostles and Paul and Barnabas (Acts 5:12; 14:3); and the species of languages in Corinth remind us of the multitude at Pentecost when each heard the apostles speaking in his own vernacular (1 Cor.12:28; Acts 2). But the Corinthian graces were discarded a few years later, as we see from the Ephesian circular letter, which was published about the time when Jerusalem, together with the sanctuary, was destroyed and any offering of divine services in the temple had ceased. The latter event brought the believers in Israel down to the same level as those of the despised nations. Since that time, all the saints are blessed with every spiritual blessing among the celestials.

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At the time when the Corinthians received their first letter, knowledge was still fragmentary; they were knowing out of an installment because they lived still in the time period of immaturity. This is the reason why they themselves estimated their graces higher than Paul did, for he was already aware of the fact that prophecies would be discarded, languages cease, and so forth. Some of the graces left little or no activity for the renewed mind. In order to further a coherent knowledge as a basis for sober spiritual truth, the risen Christ had His special apostle, Paul, write the epistle to the Romans which contains the teaching we are supposed to learn (Acts 26:16; Rom.12:2, 16:17). This was, and still is, the material provided for developing the functions of the mind toward its renewing and testing what is the will of God, good and well pleasing and mature (Rom.12:2).

We know from Paul’s letter that what was going on at the meetings in Corinth was not for the edification of the ecclesia or even the individual speaker in some cases. This state of affairs was reflected by their prayers: “For if I should be praying in a language, my spirit is praying, yet my mind is unfruitful. What is it, then? Should I be praying in the spirit, yet I will be praying with the mind also . . . But, in the ecclesia, do I want to speak five words with my mind, that I should be instructing others also, or ten thousand words in a language?” (1 Cor.14:5, 12,14-19).

Even in those days, everybody who spoke to God was in close unity with Him whenever he did so; in spirit, he was speaking secrets. The graces, however, varied. As Paul put it: “Now you are the body of Christ, and members of a part, whom also God, indeed, placed in the ecclesia, first, apostles, second, prophets, third, teachers, thereupon powers, thereupon graces of healing, supports, pilotage, species of languages (12:27,28) . . . .Whenever you may be coming together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a language, has a translation. Let all occur to edification! Yet let all occur respectably and in order!.. For God is not for turbulence, but peace, as in all the ecclesias of the saints” (14:26,27,33,40).

Spectacular graces were typical of the transitional period during which Paul wrote the Corinthian letter. If it had not been for them, spiritual life in the young ecclesias would have withered away; the “New Testament” was not existent at that time, except for a few Pauline letters to a limited number of ecclesias. Most believers today are not aware of how much more blessed they are since the graces of those early days were displaced by the coherent revelations Paul received from the risen Christ, which completed the Word of God (Col.1:25). We can now understand that the Corinthians could not see spiritual truths in the right perspective, nor did they get a full view of them. It was as if looking at things indirectly and observing them by means of a hand-made metal mirror of those days which gave a rather enigmatic picture. Since the completion of God’s Word, however, we can see things (in the spiritual sphere) as if the risen Christ were speaking to us face to face (1 Cor.13:12).

We shall now quote from Volume 31, page 36, of UNSEARCHABLE RICHES:

“Hitherto it was necessary for humanity’s good and God’s glory that God should reveal only His will, but not His intention. He tested the race in order to get it to expose itself. Hence direct knowledge was withheld. Now this is no longer necessary. He tells us plainly concerning Himself. As we see others face to face, not by reflection, so we may now see God’s full revelation, without the disturbing media used previously.”

Our readers will agree that our praise and prayer should correspond to the level of the full revelation which Christ has given us through Paul and his imitators; and no believer today, male or female, is excluded from the privilege of praying the same way as the apostle did. “You have us for a model,” he says (Phil.3:17); this certainly pertains, among other things, to praise and prayer which should always occur in an orderly manner and be well controlled by the renewed mind in order to secure close harmony with God; rather five words with the mind than ten thousand words without it.

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The honor and glory of God are the aims for which the universe came into existence, and among His creatures, man is especially well-equipped to reflect His manifold glory. If you ask a group of believers what is the climax of Ephesians, the mature saints might answer, “the secret,” (meaning the secret administration of the grace of God). This answer, however, is not quite correct; the climax is not the secret in itself, but rather the prayer for its understanding (3:18). The mere knowledge of the secret is of little value; it would not satisfy God’s heart nor enrich our spiritual lives and teaching. Only after we are rooted and grounded in love, should we be strong to grasp, together with all the saints, the vast dimensions of the secret and to know, besides, the knowledge transcending love of Christ (Eph.3:18,19).

We see that striving, for knowledge is not the end in itself; the only intrinsic value of searching the depths of God lies in responding to Christ’s love and in reflecting it. Paul wrote the famous word to the Corinthians (13:2) which will remain valid for all times: “If I  . . . should be perceiving all the secrets and all the knowledge . . . yet have no love, I am nothing!” So let us always be aware of this fact: in God’s eyes there is nothing of real value unless it generates love and contributes to His honor and glory.

Prophesying in Corinth was for edifying the ecclesia; speaking in a language was for edifying oneself. In Ephesians, however, the situation is different; the introductory prayer begins with the words: “Blessed is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who blesses us.” Then follows an enumeration of the graces that are valid today and apply to us: every spiritual blessing among the celestials, in Christ; He chooses us in Him before the disruption of the world (before sin entered into the world); designating us beforehand for the place of a son (so we are no longer minors). But it is not for our edification that we are graced in the Beloved, it is rather for the laud of the glory of His grace (1:6).

When we hear the word of truth, the evangel of our salvation, and believe . . . then we are sealed with the holy spirit of promise (which is an earnest of the enjoyment of our celestial allotment). Here again, our thoughts are directed toward a higher purpose than our own edification: His grace graces us for the laud of His glory! (1:13,14).

In Ephesians 1:8 Paul starts writing in brief (3:3) on the secret of Christ which God makes known to us in all wisdom and prudence; to head up all in the Christ . . . (and the apostle adds:) “in Him in Whom our lot was cast also, being designated beforehand.” We know from other parts of the Scriptures that we shall be judging messengers and the world (1 Cor.6:2,3), and that God seats us together among the celestials, in Christ Jesus, that, in the oncoming eons, He should be displaying the transcendent riches of His grace in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus (Eph.2:6,7). This is our future designation, and it is according to the purpose of the One Who is operating all in accord with the counsel of His will (1:11); all, not only the great events in our future lives, but those at present as well; all includes also what we would call the minor details. There is much consolation in this thought, that we are not subject to a blind fate, not in the tiniest things; “we are aware that God is working all together for the good of those who are loving God” (Rom.8:28). Again, all this information in Ephesians 1:8-11 is not given for our own edification, but rather for the laud of His glory!

In accord with this trend, the first half of Ephesians ends with a prayer for power so that we should be strong to grasp what is revealed in the first three chapters of this epistle. This prayer is not for a small power, but rather for one in accord with the riches of His glory (3:16), and the end in view is that we may be completed for the entire complement of God (3:19). This is not a petition for power in order to perform something spectacular or to edify ourselves or the ecclesia, but rather to glorify God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, as we will discuss in detail on a later occasion. So, again (3:21) we find the words of praise: to Him be the glory!

We should always bear in mind that the Corinthian epistle was written when the time of minority for believers was fading away; the circular letter to the Ephesians marks the beginning of maturity so that all the saints may see God’s full revelation. This great change is properly indicated by the first words we have already found in the introductory prayer (Eph.1:3) “Blessed is the God and Father . . . Who blesses us . . . ” What really matters is He; in His Word, and especially in the Pauline letters, He gives us the most precious gift we can comprehend with our minds which are renewed by His spirit. In other words, He blesses us with the graces we have enumerated before (1:3-14). And we respond to His blessing by blessing Him; by offering Him our praise and prayer for the very graces with which He graces us in the Beloved. He could not speak of anything more precious to us, so what He says is well said in the sense of that word. And we, too, could not find more appropriate words in our response; it is also well said. The Keyword Concordance tells us (page 34) that the Greek for “to bless” is eu logeo which means well-say.

Our readers will agree that this is very suitable for expressing the most cordial wishes on both sides, God’s and ours. In His Word, His love is concerned with our well-being and will lead us to closer unity with Him, and thus satisfy our deepest yearning for Him. Likewise, when we begin our prayer with “Blessed is the God”, we are concerned with His deepest longing toward us, with the desire of His heart: to become our All.

These are the thoughts we have in mind when we do not cease praising and lauding Him: “Blessed is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who blesses us with every spiritual blessing among the celestials, in Christ!”

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In times of old, God operated in those revering Him and made them request things that He had promised to give them. By the mouth of Ezekiel, He advised His covenant people of the day when they would dwell again in the land He gave to their fathers, and He promised them: “And you come to be Mine for a people, And I will become yours for an Alueim.” And He added: “Further, for this shall I be inquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for them” (“Ezek.36:28,37, TENTATIVE, c.v.). This example serves to show how God had planned a better future for Israel and how He puts the yearning for it into their hearts so that it becomes a pleading initiated by God Himself, a pleading indeed with a promise to be answered in due time. Here we have a true prayer of faith, rooted and grounded in His own Word.

This immovable foundation is too often missing in the prayers of our times which are rather grounded on the sand of human experience, on the pious traditions that have been passed on from generation to generation: If you had sufficient “faith” to request even the impossible and to believe that God will grant it, then, and only then, will you be given what you asked for. Some people are always talking about their answered prayer and it sounds like boasting, as if they had persuaded God, in the long run, to give in. It should be mentioned at this point that Paul also once boasted of the fact that the Lord had not answered his prayers: He had rather protested to him: “Sufficient for you is My grace, for My power in infirmity, is being perfected.”

When the writer of these lines was a young boy, each answered prayer was for him like meeting God; and weeks, even months might pass until the next meeting with Him when another pleading was granted. This went on for a long time; then the Lord gave him a mother-in-faith who taught him to read the Scriptures and to pray accordingly. In the hate-filled atmosphere of his parent’s home, he was granted the privilege of having fellowship with the Lord instead of meeting Him occasionally.

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Drawings in the catacombs show praying men and women in the same posture which is described in the Scriptures, kneeling and lifting up their hands (Acts 20:36; 1 Tim.2:8,9), as was the custom at that time. In Israel there was once a special place for prayer; the tabernacle in the wilderness, and later the temple where the people went to worship. At least they bowed their knees in the direction of the sanctuary as Daniel did (6:11) who had windows in his chamber toward Jerusalem; there he knelt three times a day for prayer and thanksgiving.

When the woman of Sychar pointed out to the Lord that the Samaritans used to worship on Mount Gerizim while the Jews claimed Jerusalem to be the proper place, Jesus disposed of the controversy by saying to her: “Believe me, woman, that, coming is an hour when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem shall you be worshipping the Father . . . But coming is the hour, and now is, when the true worshippers will be worshipping the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father also is seeking such to be worshipping Him. God is spirit, and those who are worshipping Him must be worshipping in spirit and truth” (Jn. 4:21-24).

Our Lord had never mentioned that three p.m. was the hour of prayer; but God-revering people and even the apostles retained this custom. “Peter and John went up into the sanctuary at the hour of prayer, the ninth.” And Cornelius was praying at the same hour in his house (Acts 3:1; 10:30). Emancipation from a pious tradition is a slow process, even in our days. We fold our hands, interlace our fingers, close our eyes, and incline our head when we pray, regardless of whether we are sitting, standing, or kneeling, as the case may be.

In the days of our Lord, the outward posture agreed with the frame of mind. The tribute collector would not even lift up his eyes to heaven; the man full of leprosy, when perceiving Jesus, fell on his face, at His feet; the thankful Samaritan did the same when he returned to give glory to God with a loud voice; his thanksgiving and glorifying God was followed by his salvation through faith (Lu. 5:12; 17:15-19; 18:13). Simon Peter prostrated before Jesus’ knees when awe engulfed him (Lu. 5:8,9). We remember the scene of radiant brilliance in the high mountain where the three disciples saw Jesus transformed the way He will look as the Son of Mankind coming into His kingdom. When cloudy gloom overshadowed them after Peter’s inept remark, they fell on their faces and were tremendously afraid (Matt.16:28-17:6).

Only once do we read of our Lord that, kneeling, He fell on His face in prayer, when the torment of His soul caused His sweat to drop like clots of blood. There, in Gethsemane, He comes closest to human weakness; and there, too, we find Him in fullest subjection to His Father’s will, both with His posture and His words, “Not as I will, but as Thou!” (Matt.26:39; Luke 22:41).

Elsewhere we read that Jesus looked up into heaven while he was blessing, giving thanks, or petitioning, and the beginning of His long prayer in John 17 says that He was lifting His eyes to heaven. Apart from these examples, there is no mandatory instruction in the Scriptures as to the posture we should adopt in prayer today. The words “lifting up benign hands” (1 Tim.2:8) reflect a commendable custom of those days; Paul intended that it should be done this way and above all: “apart from anger and reasonings.” What counts is not the upward motion of the hands, but rather the benign attitude of the praying heart.

There are more things in the apostle’s first letter to Timothy that do not apply to our days, at least not in the minute details. There are no longer slaves in this country and no believing owners of such (6:1,2); but employees should adopt the same attitude toward their employers, deeming them worthy of all honor and not despising them, especially if they are believers. We do not know of any ecclesia amongst our friends where widows over sixty years of age are listed for the relief fund of the saints; apart from that, present customs have made all of them ineligible since none now have the opportunity to wash the saints’ feet. What counts is that everybody should provide for his own, especially his family, and that the ecclesia should not be burdened with the relief of any person who is not worthy of this honor (5:8,16,17). We have gone into these details in order to show that customs and traditions may change; but under similar conditions, we should act in the same spirit which motivated Paul and the saints of those days.

When in prayer, we may hide our face in grief, pain, or shame, or lift up our eyes and hands for praise and petition, as the case may be; the inmost attitude of our heart, however, should always be as if we were bowing our knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ; for this is the only attitude befitting us in the presence of the great Subjector when we are asking for blessing or thanking for it. The Hebrew brk means both to kneel and to bless, for these two belong together. When bidding farewell to the elders of the Ephesian ecclesia and to the saints of Tyre, Paul knelt on the beach, together with all of them, and prayed (Acts 20:36; 21:5). Likewise he was bowing his knees for the readers of his Ephesian circular letter (3:14) that they may be made staunch with power to grasp the dimensions of the secret and to know, besides, the knowledge transcending love of Christ.

We cannot lift up benign hands in every place; yet even if we cannot emulate Paul’s posture in prayer, we can very well imitate his attitude, for God does not read our prayers from our lips and hands and knees, but from our inmost hearts. So we may be standing or sitting as the custom is, and yet our prayer may be so spiritual that its full harmony with God’s will is apparent to spiritual-minded saints. They will not miss the outward posture since the present administration primarily emphasizes the spiritual. Everything in the way of the spectacular has been displaced, and there is nothing left on the physical side which is mandatory unless it suits the occasion and is in harmony with the attitude of the heart where Christ dwells through faith.

The supreme requirement for today is that the Father be adored in spirit and truth, and He is seeking true worshipers who qualify for both. (Prayer may be done in error, and even under the influence of deceiving spirits. We will see later how we may guard ourselves so that this is not the case with us.)

Worshiping in spirit and truth calls for a spiritual attitude which may be expressed by the postures described in the Scriptures. Who can always fall on his face when he feels like it? And many of us are living and working where we can hardly see the sky when we want to lift up our eyes for praise and prayer. So we appreciate our privilege for today, that in our hearts we can always adopt the right attitude in every place at all times with no restrictions whatsoever. “Now to Him Who is able to do superexcessively above all that we are requesting or apprehending, according to the power that is operating in us, to Him be glory!”

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