Revelation 1:4 – 6; Romans 12:1 – 2; 1 Peter 2:1 – 7; Hebrews 12:25 – 29
I would like to register a few impressions, with the Lord’s help, in connection with the service of God, and I hope that the brethren may be encouraged to give themselves entirely to it, especially those who hitherto, perhaps, have hesitated, for it is a very attractive matter.
There are many words for ‘service’ in the Scriptures. The one I am thinking about really indicates the priestly service of God, so that there is something going up from men which God receives, and which He is pleased with. It is, according to the word of Moses, like burnt offerings upon His altar, incense before His nostrils (Deuteronomy 33:10). There is much going up that is called service, very often called divine service, which, alas, does not please God. It has a certain expression which practically does not alter, and it does not depend upon the state of the person who voices it. It seems just automatic. Even in a company like this where we are accustomed to the living voice of the truth, we need help so as to be living, not to be merely repeating. It may be that we need reminding of the renewal of the Holy Spirit.
As I was saying, there are many words for service. There is the service which consists of the small, humble things like helping a person who has fallen, or even handing, as the Lord said, a cup of cold water to a person (Matthew 10:42). All these things, however humble, may come, in a certain general sense, into the service of God. There is the service in the preaching: Paul said, “God … whom I serve in my spirit in the glad tidings of his Son” (Romans 1:9). He served God as he preached. It is not only that he was speaking to men, but the whole service went up to God as a sweet savour.
But what we are speaking of mainly is the priestly service of God, which offers something to Him; and I judge from the reading of the Scriptures that to be effective and full it demands a certain state and condition in those who serve. For instance, to quote from our second passage, “be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind”; that is a state; it demands a state. God has provided for that state in the gift of the Spirit. He has also provided for us to come before Him with substance and fulness: “none shall appear before me empty” (Exodus 34:20). It is a very exercising thing if brothers never take any active part in the various services known to us in the assembly. It may raise the question as to whether we have anything. It is equally exercising for the sisters, whether they depend for their spirituality upon their husbands and menfolk. We are not to live by our relations or Christian parents; we are to live by Christ: “he also who eats me shall live also on account of me” (John 6:57). We can never make a start on this line unless we are feeding on Christ; there is no life or substance in the soul apart from that.
I may take the parallel from the Old Testament scriptures, which, of course, come readily to mind when thinking of the service of God, and you find persons bringing an offering. It was contemplated that there should always be offerings going up. A bullock was a rare kind of offering, a very large offering, but there were times when a bullock was brought. One woman brought three (1 Samuel 1:24), a magnificent offering! She could not bring them if she did not have them. We cannot bring anything unless we have it, so we had better see that we have something, and all the more so as God has arranged for every circumstance. He has taken away every difficulty, He has removed every hindrance, even our sins; He has removed the old order of man which so stands in the way; every kind of enmity God has slain by the cross; “having effaced the handwriting in ordinances which stood out against us” (Colossians 2:14). What a God He is! He has not only removed it, but according to John He has done it in a Man in whom love has been pre-eminently manifested. John says, “To him who loves us” — that is Jesus, and then, as I said, God has given us the Holy Spirit.
I would like to encourage some of our younger people who are not yet breaking bread, because serving God without starting where God starts is just impossible; and God says, The beginning of My service in Christianity is the Lord’s supper. That is the beginning of the public service of God, something which can be seen, where any person coming in can note it and say, There are persons who are committing themselves all alike to one thing; the things said and the hymns sung show that they have God in mind, not just the performing of a service or religious exercise, but serving God.
Now, according to John in this passage in Revelation 1, difficulties have been removed by “him who loves us”. What are our main difficulties? Our sins. Not necessarily only our outward acts of sins, but the unholy, unclean thoughts that come into our minds, over which we seem to have no control whatever. They are sin; and deeper down behind all there is the great root which seems, somehow or other, never able to be dealt with. We may attempt to get down and cut it, and it springs up again like the weeds in our gardens. Now, the blessed God has dealt with all these things, every single one of them, in Jesus. John says, “To him who loves us, and has washed us from our sins in his blood”. That means just what it says; so we can be free. If you are a believer you can say, I am free. If I paid a small debt of yours, you would have a certain respect for me, and thankfulness towards me. Think of Jesus, the One who has washed us from our sins, so that we need never be disturbed about them any more.
A man who is disturbed about his sins does not understand forgiveness about them. He may know about the One who has died for our sins, he may know His name and be able to repeat certain things, but could we all join together in this verse: “To him who loves us, and has washed us from our sins in his blood”? This was John’s enjoyment. He was alone; there was not a brother or sister with him on the island where he was, no meetings to go to, perhaps no New Testament scriptures. He had no fellowship actively, and yet he could speak like this. He brings us salutations from divine Persons: “Grace to you and peace from him who is, and who was, and who is to come” [that is God], “and from the seven Spirits which are before his throne” [it is the Holy Spirit in a peculiar way of presentation]; “and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth”. That is the salutation, and now immediately he turns and we get this upward trend.
We see the upward trend at the well of Sychar. Jesus attended to the woman’s difficulties down here, and then He says, “God is a spirit; and they who worship him must worship him in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). That is the upward trend, securing the woman for what is going up. “To him who loves us, and has washed us from our sins in his blood”; that is the upward trend. You can hardly have any real beginning in the service of God unless you know this.
“And made us a kingdom” — a realm for God. It is not exactly, ‘made a kingdom for us’; it is the idea that the saints are made into a kingdom; they are a kingdom. A person coming for the first time to Britain might say, What kind of sovereign have you got? and then, looking round, say, I have formed the conclusion that your monarch is of such a kind, for the subjects would take character from the sovereign. What kind of a kingdom is the kingdom of God? You begin to see what it is like as you see the subjects of it. If you see a Christian doing wrong things, or going to wrong places, what kind of impression does he give of this kingdom? This kingdom is to shine in us, in our homes and in the localities to which we belong. The persons in it are priests who have part in the upward trend “to his God and Father”.
Now John says, “to him be the glory and the might to the ages of ages”. That is the beginning of the service of God. You begin to worship the Lord Jesus and utter glory to Him. The gospel of Luke is full of this. The shepherds began it. They were touched by what they found and saw; it affected them and they glorified God. These are wonderful things, and yet so simple. It is hard to understand why a real believer is not touched.
Now, perhaps someone will say, That sounds very attractive, and I would like to come into it; what have I got? You have your body. That is what we read in Romans 12 “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the compassions of God, to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your intelligent service”. You will notice that Paul — not John this time — says, “I beseech you … by the compassions of God, to present your bodies a living sacrifice”. In this book God has come down to where we were, and Christ has died; indeed now He has been set on high, a mercy-seat. The mercy-seat refers to Christ risen and glorified: “whom God has set forth a mercy-seat” (Romans 3:25). His dying, and His being raised and glorified means that there is salvation, “through faith in his blood”. It is the compassion of God that makes that available for us; and not only that, but the way, for instance, that God has, for the moment, set aside the Jew in order to bring us in. We are Gentiles, and God has done this wonderful thing in His compassion. That is to say, it is not just a word, or a sign with the hand, or a display, or a preaching; it is accompanied by the deep inward feelings of God, and the way they have expressed themselves. Paul says, as it were, Look at what God has done; not only has He made it plain as to our own soul history, but He has even set aside the Jew and brought in the times of the Gentiles that we might come into the service of God.
Now, that is to be our answer? Paul says, “present your bodies”. I have a body — in one sense I have nothing else. Money, career, fame, style of living, education, none of that will go with us beyond death, but the body of the believer is very precious. Paul says your body is to be for God; it is a vessel. Paul likes to speak about vessels. He speaks about “vessels of mercy” and “vessels of wrath” (Romans 9:23, 22). What a sobering expression is that latter! — “vessels of wrath fitted for destruction”. God gives us an example in Pharaoh, who hardened his heart so many times that even at the last, when he may have wanted to soften his heart and repent, he could not; God hardened it. Again, in one part of Exodus it speaks about bowls for pouring out (chapter 25: 29), and in Revelation we have bowls full of incenses (chapter 5: 8) which are the prayers of the saints. In the Old Testament again it speaks of vessels full of oil; that speaks of the Spirit. Vessels for pouring out before God, vessels for prayer, vessels for the Spirit; these are the precious things which enter into the composition of the person before God.
You may remember that at one time God said to His people, I want to have you as priests; you have seen what I have done to the Egyptians, and how I have borne you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself. “And now”, [this is the important part] “if ye will hearken to my voice indeed and keep my covenant, then shall ye be my own possession out of all the peoples … and ye shall be to me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:5, 6). “Hearken to my voice“; the vessel is to be for God.
There may be some in this company who are thinking to do their own will, and may be saying to themselves, When I am a little older I shall do what I like and turn my back on all this. God says, “if ye will hearken to my voice …” — listen to what kind of a God I am and cleave to that — “ye shall be to me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation”. That is what enters into the presenting of the body. What a noble thought it is. I have often thought that people will give a fortune to get themselves presented at court, to be allowed the liberty of moving in royal circles for a moment. God says, Your body is precious to me, I want you to present it. I do not know how many Christians there were in Rome to whom Paul was writing, but he says, “present your bodies” (plural) “a living sacrifice” (singular), as if every-body was to do the same thing.
Christianity brings us on to the same level, not these low levels, but the high level of what is pleasing to God. Note the word, “present your bodies a living sacrifice”. The bullock I spoke of is not living, it has to die. The believer’s body is to be a sacrifice, but living. Why? on account of the Spirit. These are simple things, but how deep! Those who go along in this beautiful way of complete surrender come into the service of God.
Now, we must take account of what Peter says — John, Paul and then Peter. Peter says it is not merely the giving of yourself, but there is the great spiritual structure in mind: “To whom coming, a living stone”. First it was a living sacrifice, now it is a living Stone.”Yourselves also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God by Jesus Christ”. My impression is that in the short time which remains, the Lord Jesus will make assembly service very precious to us, and that He will help us to shine as serving in it, in service to Himself, service to the Spirit, service to the Father, and service to God, the great final thought. Think of men being able to serve as far as that! Peter would secure us for it as the great, holy priesthood.
We have to put things together spiritually. We remember Peter in the boat and the Lord Jesus walking on the water. He says to the Lord, “Lord, if it be thou, command me to come to thee upon the waters”, and the Lord says, “Come” (Matthew 14:28, 29). Peter went and walked upon the waters; he began to sink, but he was strengthened by Jesus. That is an illustration. The first epistle of Peter is to some extent coloured by this, in Matthew 14 the second epistle by Matthew 17, the Son and the companions with the Son in the glory. This is Matthew 14 — “to whom coming”. Peter stepped out of the boat, and I think Peter is just a sample. We are not told what the others thought, but I believe they were all in sympathy with it. Peter was really attached to the Lord, and so he went.
We have to learn to think spiritually, because we should hardly, perhaps, put together these ideas of Peter leaving the boat to go to Jesus, and the spiritual house, but the two things do go together. The Lord Jesus is showing with Peter there that He has got a structure which is entirely outside of nature and beyond Satanic attack, the winds and the water, and all that kind of thing. Naturally, it is an impossible position, but yet the marvel of what God has done is just that; it is what He has brought to pass in the assembly, in this spiritual house, a holy priesthood. He has brought about a position which, naturally, is absolutely impossible. Peter walking on the water is the assembly position. The assembly position is not in the boat. The return to the boat will come later on; it refers to the Jewish remnant, and the Lord Jesus going back to the boat is another dispensation. Their worshipping Him as the Son of God is an event later on, and does not refer to our day; it is a prophetic touch referring so Israel. The present time is far more wonderful than that: standing with the Lord, ready to serve Him — “a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God by Jesus Christ”. These are wonderful things; I trust I have whetted your appetite for them, that you may have part in them.
Now, to return to Paul, he would say, Everything is going to be shaken except God’s kingdom. “Yet once will I shake not only the earth, but also the heaven. But this Yet once, signifies the removing of what is shaken, as being made, that what is not shaken may remain”. The inference is that what remains is eternal — and it is.
What is seen around us as being made, made in the ordinary and natural sense, is going to be removed. God even says, so to speak, This earth and these heavens are not good enough for My eternal dwelling-place, I am going to make new heavens and a new earth, as Peter says, “wherein dwells righteousness” (2 Peter 3:13). Paul says God will there be “all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:28). There will not be anything that has not the stamp of God upon it. The Lord Jesus will give a special touch for the saints of this dispensation: “I go to prepare you a place” (John 14:2). John speaks again about this wonderful vessel, the assembly, coming down from God. According to the vision, that is the assembly’s place, up there. It is our place. We have done nothing to deserve it, but we can do something to give thanks for it. “Wherefore let us, receiving a kingdom not to be shaken, have grace, by which let us serve God acceptably with reverence and fear”. We can have our part in the service of God now as receiving what really is eternal.
So the persons are right and cleared of what is unsuitable, and they surrender themselves to God. The system is right, it is spiritual, and everything goes up to God by Jesus. The surroundings are right, a kingdom that cannot be shaken, a realm eternally for God.The only persons to whom the thing has to come now, perhaps, as a challenge, are ourselves. Is it not worth going in for on the eve of the translation?
The last word in the Scriptures is left to the assembly. The Lord says, “I come quickly”, and the assembly answers, “Amen; come, Lord Jesus”. It is remarkable that the Lord leaves the last word with the assembly; He does not feel as if He needs to add another word. It is the same in the Song of Songs; the last word is left with the spouse: “Haste, my beloved”. These are wonderful things, and the simple desire is that we might all have our part in them without reserve. The Lord grant it, for His Name’s sake.
Londonderry (11 April 1953)