Substance of a Reading on Ephesians: Part 5

Ephesians 5‑6  •  11 min. read  •  grade level: 5
(Chaps. 5 and 6.)
But we have to notice another thing also: “No man ever yet hated his own flesh, but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church, for we are members of his body, of his flesh and of his bones.” There I get not simply this purpose of presenting us to Himself, but how He loves and cherishes us as a man does his own flesh. It is present care of the church. “We are members of his body, of his flesh and of his bones.” This shows that the church could not have existed at all till Christ was glorified, because it is with Christ as a man it is connected. It is not that Christ quickened us (though this is true), but that we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. There is another great subject in this Epistle, the conflicts of the saint. You will observe we do not find the conflict except in Ephesians. It is not a conflict of flesh and spirit, nor is it a conflict of conscience when a man is quickened. The Jews were slaves in Egypt as an unconverted man is in his sins. When God brought them into Canaan, what was to be their rest? There was conflict, and the proper sense of conflict with Satan is in heavenly places. In the Authorized Bible “high places” is inserted in place of “heavenly places,” which shows that the translators were afraid of other things, and so altered the word. A similar alteration occurs in Rev. 4. There we get One seated on a throne, and the four and twenty elders also seated on thrones, but though the word in the original is quite the same, the translators altered the thrones of the elders into “seats.” In our epistle they were afraid to translate “heavenly places,” and they made it “high places,” but the word they have translated “high” here is the same as the one they have translated “heavenly” elsewhere. People speak of Jordan as death, and quite rightly, too, for it is a figure of death; but then is it not strange that when they crossed over Jordan and got into Canaan Joshua met a man with a sword drawn, in his hand, and they had to fight? Is it not, strange that, as soon as heavenly places are entered, conflict has to be entered on? Now what is Jordan? After passing through death into these heavenly places we begin to fight. Thus it does not mean actual rest in heaven as supposed. If I say I have put off the old man, this is the same as that I am dead with Christ. I have passed through death, and been circumcised with the circumcision of Christ, and now I can fight the battles of God with Satan. This is what we get here. Redemption brought us into the wilderness. The wilderness is our passing through this world where our flesh is tested. Canaan is the other part of the Christian's life, where be reckons himself dead. Christ in spirit is there as the Captain of the Lord's host, and he has to fight the battles of the Lord himself. That is what we get in Canaan. I sometimes wonder that it does not strike people what an odd thing it is, that if Jordan means death, and Canaan heaven (which they do) fighting should characterize the place in Joshua, for the first thing he meets there is a man with a sword drawn in his hand. The whole book of Joshua is about the battles of the Lord. There we get death brought in, as we have been saying, reckoning ourselves dead—I am crucified with Christ. This is what Jordan is: “If ye be dead with Christ.” By-and-by it will be our place of rest. Yes, heaven will be ours. I am not quarreling with the use of the image in that way. Jordan is a type of death, and Canaan of heavenly places. In the account we get in Numbers, they are going through the wilderness and tested with God; and in Canaan they fought with flesh and blood, which is a figure of spiritual wickedness in heavenly places. We do not get there till we have passed through Jordan, that is, till we are dead and risen with Christ. This is every Christian's place; but I speak of realizing it.
The Christian is in both at the same time, but not in experience, though his condition down here affects his power of fighting. He must have the armor on. I have to go through the world with the cares of family, or business, or meeting the contradiction of sinners. But this is not a moment in which I am fighting God's battles: I am then fighting my own, so to speak. We are with God down here, or God is with us; and we are with the devil in heavenly places. Until Rev. 12 he is in heaven. It is not where God dwells in unapproachable light; he is not there; but how could he be the accuser of the brethren if he is not in heaven? He went with the sons of God about Job, for we find Satan was amongst them. You could not have any accuser of the brethren, if he were not there. He tempts them down here but accuses them there.
Suppose a Christian was preaching the gospel: would he be in wilderness circumstances in that? No, he is rather fighting the battle there. He might be in wilderness circumstances in various things, but he is fighting the battles there, and he must use the wisdom of God against a subtle spiritual adversary. Suppose a man is attacked in the street and abused? You never get the question of the flesh away. When they did not consult the Lord, they made mistakes, as in the case of Ai and Gibeon. The contending with Satan would be against heresy, superstition and other things. Satan may raise up opposition and violence in the streets, and hence the Christian would need wisdom, but you cannot separate the idea from having the flesh, because you will be making blunders. Thus there are doubts, and things of that kind, which Satan brings into the mind—infidelity for instance. Satan in them acts directly; they are not mere temptations of an ordinary kind.
In this connection he adds, “Be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might,” We have no strength of our own. We have nothing to do with any carnal or fleshly weapons. “God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise.” As long as the saints lean upon flesh and influence, they are not leaning on God but flesh. The world has all the upper hand. there.
Take an example in our Lord in His conflict in the wilderness. There was no sin in being hungry. That is hardly the kind of conflict; still the Lord overcomes. There was more wilderness work; still it was Satan. He too hindered the apostle from going to the Thessalonians. If one were endeavoring to make void all this truth brought out up to this point, and say it was not true, it would be Satan's work. Infidelity, and heresies, and things of that kind, are referred to in this warfare. In a case of discipline Paul says, “we are not ignorant of his devices.” Satan was trying to divide Paul and the Corinthians, and he says, If you forgave it, I will forgive it. I see what Satan is at: he wants to make a split between us.” Error as to any doctrine is Satan's power. I merely took the other as an example. In Canaan it is not so much as a roaring lion, but he might be. “In nothing terrified by your adversaries.” In the case of Paul being prevented by Satan from going to the Thessalonians, God allowed it in His providence. He allows everything in His: providence. In the case of Job, it was God commenced the matter. He overrules all that. “We would have gone once and again, but Satan hindered us.” Opposition was raised up that he could not go. All that is conflict. We do not believe enough that there is this.
The rulers of the darkness of this world are Satan and his angels. The darkness of the world is ignorance of God, who is, light. Conflict of Satan is not characteristic of the wilderness. If there is anything of the kind, it is an attempt to go up and get beaten. They might have gone in at Kadesh-Barnea, but they did not; and when they found how foolish they were, they attempted and were beaten altogether.
It is not what characterizes the wilderness. God might give them a specimen of what they were to meet. He destroyed them unto Hamah. All our war is with the people that possess the land, that is, the devil and his angels. The wilderness is the patience of going through this world according to God. At Sinai is not the wilderness, it is totally apart. The general character of the wilderness is going through that where they had only manna and the cloud—Christ and the word and Spirit. They were to go through this world dependent on God. It is this characterizes the wilderness, and not fighting. In Canaan they had not any manna. It was characteristically the heavenly places, and the Lord set them to fight. In the type we get what characterizes it. The first thing is the wiles of the devil; it is not his power here. “Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” He has no power if you resist him, so far as we are concerned. His wiles are dangerous enough. “We wrestle not against flesh and blood” as Joshua did. We wrestle against wicked spirits in heavenly places. “And having done all to stand,” that is, to make good your ground, “stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth:” you must have the mind and affections tucked up with the word of God.
“Having on the breastplate of righteousness,” that is, practical righteousness. It is not before God, but with Satan here. If I have not practical righteousness, Satan has got something against me: I am afraid. It is a good conscience. I have my loins thoroughly tucked up and in order; I have a good conscience and am walking in the spirit of peace.
We have not got the sword yet; the defensive armor comes before the offensive. In that state, having a good conscience, and the spirit of grace and peace, I now come to the shield from Satan. I am to look up to God with entire confidence; that is the shield of faith. Then comes the helmet of salvation. I can hold my bead up. Having got all the offensive armor complete, I take the sword. The sword of the Spirit is God's word.
And then, mark further, when I have got the armor and weapon, I am thrown back in entire dependence on the Lord—praying always. The word is first of all applied to myself—I get girded with truth, and, having got the rest of the armor, the word comes into activity—the sword of the Spirit. Lastly I am cast entirely upon God.
When I begin to take the sword, it may be service among saints or in the gospel. People have sometimes fancied it is Christ as our righteousness; but this is with God. He is my righteousness with God. I do not want armor against God; it is armor against wicked spirits I need. There is only one offensive weapon—the word. It is wonderful how the Lord has provided everything for us in scripture. There is the love of Christ—He loves us like His own flesh—and the fighting with Satan follows. After we are put in our place, we get the love of Christ and then the conflict with Satan.
Watching is another element in it He says in this place, watching with prayer. If I am watching in my path in everything with God, it turns to prayer. If my heart is engaged about the blessing of the saints, I cannot get on without it. Watching in it is perseverance in it. The object of Satan is to keep us from realizing these heavenly things. There is conflict for the benefit of all, as well as for ourselves. We have to put the armor on ourselves, but when we have got it on, we must fight for it. The first part of verse 18, namely, “Praying always with all prayer and supplication,” refers to the individual, then to all saints. It is for themselves, and then it widens out. It is a general principle first. You get this constantly in the Ephesians as for instance, “That ye may be able to comprehend with all saints.” The moment he gets to the thoughts and purposes of God, he cannot leave out the saints.
Confidence is in God known in Himself. I am not likely to go and ask you for something if I have not confidence in you. “The mystery of the gospel,” in verse 19, includes not only the church but the whole thing. Glad tidings take in really everything with Paul. He was a minister of the gospel in the whole creation under heaven, and a minister of the word to complete the word of God.