Check Your Panoply
WHEN PAUL, in Ephesians 6:16, speaks of “the large shield of faith,” he uses a wonderful figure of speech which, indeed, covers all the various aspects of faith he has in mind. The apostle’s command to take up this large shield implies the necessity of exercising individual faith, and of broadening the realm of faith in general. God is the One Who provides both of them; we, however, are supposed to cooperate wholeheartedly, in individual faith obedience, as well as in recognition and realization of the various divine truths which make up the whole realm of faith, as we have shown earlier in this series.
YOUR FAITH IS FLOURISHING
The largeness of our shield is intended to emphasize the fact that it is sufficient in size to offer ample protection against enemy attacks. At the same time, however, its very largeness is indicative of the wealth of truths—of all the spiritual graces which Paul wants to share with us in his epistles. His attempt to readjust the deficiencies of the Thessalonians’ realm of faith (1 Thess.3:10) is continued in his second letter to them which brings out the distinction between the rage of man and the wrath of God. During this secret administration of grace, believers need have no fear of the terrible trial which will soon sweep over the earth.
Hence Paul can praise the Lord for our salvation out of the coming indignation, when he writes: “Now we ought to be thanking God always concerning you, brethren, beloved by the Lord, seeing that God prefers you from the beginning for salvation, in [individual] holiness of the spirit and [individual] faith in the truth” (2 Thess.2:13). The Circumcision believers expected to experience the terrors of that day when only those who endured to the consummation would be saved (Matt.24:13). But when this occurs, we will have already left this earth to meet the Lord in the air, for He is our Rescuer out of the coming indignation (1 Thess.1:10; 4:17).
The Thessalonians were undergoing such persecutions and afflictions which they had mistaken for the afflictions of the end time. And, ever since, such suffering has been the lot of many members of the ecclesia. Severe as these trials may be, they are inflicted by man; they are definitely not a sign of God’s wrath. When the Thessalonians accepted this new truth, which is in accord with His unadulterated grace, their realm of faith was certainly broadening or flourishing (literally, OVER-GROWING-UP), as Paul says (2 Thess.1:3). In addition the apostle can glory in their [individual] endurance and [individual] faith in all persecutions and afflictions (2 Thess.1:3,4). Such trials are easier to bear when we console one another with the words of the Lord as quoted by Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17. This expectation of meeting, the Lord in the air was the basic truth which contributed to the flourishing of the Thessalonians’ realm of faith. Salvation out of the coming indignation was the complementary truth.
When we can believe Paul’s message to the saints in Thessalonica and appropriate the truths developed in the two epistles to them, our attention will no longer be focused on earthly events, but will rather be drawn to that which is above. In the two letters to the Thessalonians, only the general direction is indicated, and that is upwards, while the details of our future destiny are not yet revealed. For the next step, we have to turn to Paul’s first letter to the ecclesia in Corinth—the place from which he had previously written the epistles to the Thessalonians.
The secret of a life well-pleasing to God lies in the crucifixion of the flesh and resurrection by the power of the spirit which Paul calls “walking in newness of life” and “living together with Christ” or “living to God in Christ Jesus, our Lord” (Rom.6:4-11). The Corinthians had failed to appropriate these truths which put an end to all physical pretensions. Some of them even claimed that there was no resurrection of the dead, although the resurrection of Christ is fundamental to the evangel and an absolute necessity to a walk well-pleasing to God.
AN EVANGEL IN INSTALLMENTS
Throughout his career as teacher of the nations, Paul had dealt with deficiencies in the realm of faith such as he encountered in Thessalonica and Corinth. A friend once called our attention to a notable feature of those unfoldings in the apostle’s earlier epistles which reach out to the present grace. They seem to have been written in order to meet a difficulty, or explain a perplexity. It seems almost as if these revelations were not due till the time that Ephesians was written from Rome. Hence they would have formed a part of Ephesians if the position of the saints had not called for an earlier adjustment of some of these deficiencies of theirs in the realm of faith.
The fact seems to be that Paul’s evangel to the nations was made known on the instalment plan, and that, during this period, it was necessarily incomplete and unfinished in itself. It left unsolved problems and immatured revelations. When the apostle said that it was granted to him to complete the Word of God (Col.1:25), this pertained to both the Sacred Scriptures in general, and his own writings in particular. That the truth, indeed, was given by installments, may be gathered from the following quotations from UNSEARCHABLE RICHES, volume XXXI, beginning with page 212, and volume XXVIII, page 21.
NO EXPECTATION IN THE FLESH
“In Thessalonica it was the death of some among them which gave rise to serious thoughts as to their destiny. It would seem that they naturally expected to live on through the time of tribulation at the end, and enter the earthly kingdom without dying. They were not proselytes, who, because of their circumcision, might expect to be roused with the saints in Israel. They had no expectation in flesh (Eph.2:12). Neither are they given one. They are not united to Israel by any physical rite, in order to give them a future hope, or a title to the former resurrection. Instead, the apostle gives them a fresh revelation. The living, who are surviving to the presence of the Lord, should by no means out-strip those who have been put to repose, because both will be snatched away together when the Lord descends from heaven to the air, not to the earth.
“In Corinthians the questions were, How are the dead roused, and with what body do they come? These unquestionably arose from the Thessalonian revelation. If there is to be a snatching away into the air it must be preceded by a change in the constitution of our bodies, for they could not endure such a ‘rapture’ as they are at present. This opened up the way to new truth. The body of our humiliation is to be altered. This alteration is exactly what the celestial allotment demands. Had it not been written before, the fifteenth of first Corinthians would have been a necessary part of Ephesians.
“Resurrection, in the prophets and the teaching of our Lord, is a return from death to life upon the earth. There is no hint of a change in the constitution of even those who will be vivified which would enable them to live apart from the soil of the earth, or to overcome the power of gravity which holds them bound to it. To them such an announcement as is made at the forefront of Ephesians, that their blessings are spiritual and among the celestials, would produce amazement and consternation, for there is no possibility that they could enjoy them. They would be more at a loss than we would be if we should inherit a mountain on the moon, for we might at least get a glimpse of our allotment there. But to the Jew or gentile who had cherished in his heart the promise that he would be snatched away from the earth to be always together with the Lord (1 Thess.4:17) and who expected his body changed when vivified from a soulish to a spiritual and from a soilish to a celestial frame (1 Cor.15:44,49)—to such a one the opening strain of Ephesians is the welcome answer to yearnings which have been implanted within him by Paul’s evangel.
“Moreover, the celestial allotment is distinctly said to be for those who are sealed with the holy spirit (Eph.1:13). This was never known among the sons of the terrestrial kingdom. Paul alone speaks to those under the power of his evangel, and tells them that God’s seal is upon them. They are His peculiar and private possession. Besides this they have the earnest of the spirit, and this it is which is also an earnest of the celestial allotment (2 Cor.1:22; Eph.1:14; 4:30). From these scriptures it should be abundantly evident that Ephesians can have no appeal or promise to anyone who has not experienced the grace revealed in Paul’s epistles, written before the secret of Ephesians was made known. But for those who had harbored Paul’s message in their hearts, there would be a tremendous attraction, for they were not only ready, but eager for the final instalment, to cap the climax of the truth which they had already accepted.
CHRIST’S RULE OF THE UNIVERSE
“Our relationship to Christ, as His body, is first found in Ephesians in connection with His headship over all (Eph.1:22,23). We will have a part with Him in His rule of the universe. Such a thought is entirely foreign to the Circumcision evangel. In the kingdom, Israelites will, indeed, rule; but even they would have no such privilege among the celestials. Yet the saints from among the nations, in the terrestrial kingdom, are to be ruled, not to rule! Yet it was to these that Paul had already written: ‘And would that you surely reign, that we also should be reigning with you!’ (1 Cor.4:8). From our point of view it may not seem impossible that the Corinthians should reign. But over whom, and where could they exercise authority? On earth Israel has that right exclusively. Their only answer is that which we find in Ephesians—not on earth, but in the heavens. And Paul’s reigning with them is only another intimation of the joint body.
“To these same Corinthians Paul asks the question (6:3): ‘Are you not aware that we shall be judging messengers?’ In this connection the messengers must be celestial beings, so that here, again, we have an intimation, most extraordinary for the time, which reaches right on to the Ephesian unfolding. Even the pronoun we, which joins Paul with the Corinthians in celestial rule, is a clear indication of the grace which was still in store for them, and which is revealed plainly, or “face to face” in Ephesians.
“Joint participation in the promise comes clearly through the evangel Paul preached, for he it was who broke the rule ‘to Jews only’ (Acts 11:19) and brought a salvation ‘to everyone who is believing—to the Jew first and to the Greek as well’ (Rom.1:16). This is the road that leads from the kingdom evangel to the one faith for both Circumcision and Uncircumcision in this day of grace. Whenever Paul went to a city with a synagogue, or even if they had their gatherings elsewhere, he went to the Jews first. At the close of his address in Pisidian Antioch he said, ‘to you first was it necessary that the word of God be spoken. Yet, since in fact you are thrusting it away, and are judging yourselves not worthy of eonian life, lo! we are turning to the nations’ (Acts 13:46). This is typical. The Jews had the priority in time and rank, yet most of them were made jealous (Deut.32:21), so that many among the nations were reached. In spirit both had access to the Father, but the flesh still had a place, or, indeed, there would have been no difference between Circumcision and Uncircumcision. The flesh was continually losing ground during Paul’s service, but it was not until Ephesians was written, that it forfeited all.
“Ephesians and its companion epistles are the ripened fruit of Paul’s previous revelation when he had written to the nations in preparation for the coming grace. Thus it was that he led the saints from glory to glory, until the supreme unfoldings were reached in Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians. And thus it is today. There is no way to reach the highest peaks of revelation except through Paul’s previous epistles. They are the only channel.
FAITH AND GRACE
“Paul’s earlier epistles lay the broad foundation of faith and grace on which the later are erected. As these eliminate all that is of man, there is no limit to the favor that God can bestow on those who are justified and reconciled. Moreover, the Corinthians were expressly told that God had made ready something far beyond the perception of the eye and the ear and the heart of man, for those who are loving Him (1 Cor.2:9). Nothing could be more suggestive of the grace which came to them in Paul’s later letters.
WE ARE AWAITING A SAVIOUR
“Neither Thessalonians nor Corinthians took us into the heavens or gave us a legal residence above. Thessalonians took us to the air and left us there. First Corinthians hinted that there is a celestial body (15:40), and foretold our change. In Ephesians we have the completion of these unfinished unfoldings. We go to the air because that is on the way to the heavens, where we have our home. Our bodies will not only be changed to immortality and incorruptibility, but will be transfigured to accord with a celestial destiny. There is no single point of contrast in these gracious glimpses of our future. One step leads to the next in perfect sequence and accord. Each further unfolding included what had gone before. As all else, our blessed expectation went from glory to glory, each grander than before.
“The same Paul who could say, ‘we, the living, who are surviving to the presence of the Lord’ (1 Thess.4:15), who could say, ‘we all, indeed, shall not be put to repose’ (1 Cor.15:51), he it is who says, in this, his latest revelation, ‘we are awaiting a Saviour also’ (Phil.3:20). It is in the character of Saviour that Christ is coming to His celestial saints. Now we have bodies altogether unworthy of our heavenly destiny—weak, mortal, corruptible, earth-bound, humiliating. These we cannot take to our celestial home as they are, so He will transfigure them, as He alone can do, Who has the ability to bring the whole universe beneath His beneficent sway.
A NEW ADDITION TO THE REALM OF FAITH
“After expounding to us the universal headship of Christ, the apostle begins a most marvelous prayer for us who are of the nations (Eph.1:15-23). This new faith, which made the nations the peer of Israelites in an allotment unutterably higher than that which they will have on the earth, called forth his thanks and the special request that God, as the Father glorious, may be giving us a spirit of wisdom and revelation in order to make it known to us. Just as the first hint of present truth came through the revelation of a new expectation, so now the first part of the new faith for the nations which the apostle would have us grasp is the future which lies before us. Only in the light of this glory may we be enabled to realize the grandeur of our calling, for it is hidden now, and will be, until Christ appears.
“Incorruption, glory, power—such are the splendid excellences of the resurrection body (1 Cor.15:42,43). And here in Ephesians, where we find this supreme revelation of our future fate, these are repeated and magnified. Paul prays that we may realize the riches of the glory, and the transcendent greatness of the power which is for believers. Our bodies are sown in dishonor and roused in glory. So also our present lot is one of humiliation. But our future allotment will not simply be glorious. That would not be too strong a term for the allotment of Israel on the earth. Ours will by far transcend it. We will have riches of glory. So also with power. Great indeed will be the power of the saints in the kingdom, but ours will not be merely great, but surpassingly, transcendently great.
“It would be practically impossible to convey an adequate idea of the power which is ours, apart from the fact that Christ has already preceded us. His exaltation is an exhibition of the strength which will raise us to the celestial realm. It is impossible for the human mind to imagine a display of power superior to that which has operated in the Christ, rousing Him from among the dead and seating Him at God’s right hand. Who could be weaker than the despised Nazarene, crucified, forsaken, dead? And who, in all the universe, is so powerful as the Executive of the Deity? There can be no greater sum than the difference between zero and infinity, nor can there be any vaster difference in power than that between the dead Saviour and our exalted Lord. Yet such is the only example which adequately conveys a conception of the power which God will use to exalt the members of the body of His Christ.
“Let us not miss the marvelous fact that our degradation and exaltation are both vital to the glory of our God. The certainty and satisfaction which this imparts will enable us to anticipate much of our future bliss. God has thrust us down for His own sake, and will exalt us for the same reason. He chose Israel, and cast them off, and will glorify them for His own name’s sake. But how great is the wisdom He displayed in taking those who were not members of the elect nation, who had no prospects, no promises of their own, and giving them the place supreme among the celestials! Not for naught are we to be changed from earth-bound slaves of the soil to free citizens of the celestial realm. We are the greatest achievement of God’s grace in order to be the greatest display of His glory.”
JOINT PARTAKERS OF THE PROMISE
All of the truth which we have hitherto considered, in Thessalonians and Corinthians, is ours now on an equal footing with the elect out of Israel. This is why the apostle calls us joint partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus (Eph.3:6). The promise itself is not new, as we have seen; but the equality in rank is. During this secret administration of grace, there is but one faith for believers, whether they are Jews or gentiles. Both of them expect to meet the Lord in the air before He will come down to Mount Olivet in order to set up the earthly kingdom. The prior expectancy is the outstanding characteristic of the joint faith which Paul shares with some of his Jewish brethren and those of the nations. This is apparent from the careful wording in Ephesians 1:12,13, ” . . . pre-expectant in the Christ—in Whom you also . . .”
FOR US WHO ARE BELIEVING
As we have pointed out before (volume LI, page 225), the transcendent greatness of God’s power for us who are believing, will not be confined to our literal vivification in the resurrection. This power will do the same thing for us now, in spirit, as it did literally for the dead Jesus in the tomb, and as it will do literally for us at the rapture. The transcendent greatness of divine power enables us to enjoy our celestial status, in spirit, even today while we are still in this body of our humiliation. Hence we can join Paul in the laud of God’s glory, “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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