Less Than The Least
Part 2: Filled and Running Over
Sabbath Day Sermon, Saturday 28 August 2004
Click here for Part 1
"To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ); to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places, according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Messiah Yah'shua (Christ Jesus) our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through faith in Him. Therefore I ask that you do not lose heart at my tribulations for you, which is your glory.
"For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ), from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Ruach (Spirit) in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height -- to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the Messianic Community (church) by Messiah Yah'shua (Christ Jesus) to all generations, forever and ever. Amen" (Eph.3:8-21, NKJV).
It is a fact that those who have been touched and transformed by the undeserved living kindness of God - what Scripture calls 'grace' - is something that unbelievers and nominal believers find hard to grasp. It is a mystery to them. Not untypically the charge of 'fanatic' or 'religious nutcase' is thrown at us. It perturbs these people that "we have boldness and access with confidence through faith in (Christ)". It is not hard to be bold when you have certainty. I have known timid and retiring people become utterly transformed in their personalities when they have met the risen Christ because they have access to a divine power which they never dreamed existed before. It is this confidence, which comes through meeting God in the person of His Son, which enables us to pass through tribulation and be strengthened by it, and not to be disheartened by the tribulations that other believers go through too. Are we heartless? By no means. We walk with them in their suffering but equally we know that it is for our "glory".
A fruit of being touched by grace is a desire to serve. Service is the vital outcome of redemption in Christ. Because we know that the gift we have received is undeserved, we equally know that we cannot withhold what we have from others. We give to those who do not deserve either, just as we have received. The grace that we receive inspires us to works as Paul expresses to the Corinthians:
"... by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me" (1 Cor.15:10, NKJV).
Grace always leads to works even though the two are in very different categories (Rom.11:6). In the verse before our main passage Paul says:
"I became a minister according to the gift of the grace of God given to me by the effective working of His power" (Eph.3:7, NKJV - also see v.16)
What we render as "effective working" comes from the Greek energeia so we could, like Moffat, equally well render this passage as "by the energy of His power". This grace - this undeserved loving kindness of God - gives you an incredible energy which is derived from resurrection power. This energy is not natural or biological - it awakens and empowers the human spirit by virtue of our connection to Christ. It is in this energy that we experience resurrection life here and now. Satan has a demonic counterpart (Eph.2:2) which is psychic but it is not eternal - it comes and goes like the tide. This divine energy or power is according to the will and purpose of Yahweh (Eph.1:11), we receive it through faith (1:19-20) that leads to obedience, and at length is comes to completely fill us (3:20). It is this energy that makes redeemed Christians brim with aliveness - it ignites a fire in their eyes and propels them towards works of righteousness without counting the cost or measuring the worthiness of those whom they serve to receive it.
The mystery that Paul talks about in these verses was completely hidden from Satan for 4,000 years. The Cross took the devil and his fallen angels by complete surprise because they sincerely believed that they had won at His death. The dispensation of grace came as a great surprise to them. That secret is revealed by the Body of Christ as Paul writes:
"... now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the Messianic Community (church) to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places, according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Messiah Yah'shua (Christ Jesus) our Lord".
Even the good angels were caught unawares, the "principalities and powers in the heavenly places" referring to both the faithful angels as well as the rebellious demonic ones. Notice it is Messianic Community or church which reveals this great mystery, in its reception and use of this resurrection power that comes through grace. Lucifer, who once had such great wisdom (Ezek.28:12,17), was completely caught off his guard. He had correctly calculated that man, because of his tendency to sin, would never be able to deliver himself by his own works. He knew that the Messiah would somehow tip the balance in man's favour but did not know how He would do it. Impaled on the cross, it appeared to Satan that he had won - he really believed Yahweh had failed. So the raising of Yah'shua (Jesus) from the dead came as a terrible shock to him and his demonic host - and in many ways, an even greater shock was to follow - those puny, weak human beings whom he had successfully led to destruction time and time again were suddenly made the custodians of a power, through grace, which he could not resist. Though he might gain access to their bodies, to torment and afflict them, their spirits remained off-limits so long as they retained their salvation by being obedience to truth. Thus Satan has had to suffer the indignity of having the truth of Yahweh's plans revealed through 'puny men'.
There are major implications in what Paul says which help us understand why, in the future, redeemed men will be a little higher than the angels (1 Cor.6:3) whilst at present it is the other way round (Ps.8:5). It is the task of the redeemed - the saved - to teach the angels about this astonishing and wondrous grace, because they have no knowledge of it in their current state. The demons, of course, greatly fear it, for whom the Word - because of their total inner darkness and lack of love - has utterly no meaning to them. The godly angels have this great spiritual thirst and hunger to look into the deep spiritual meaning that pertains to the suffering of Christ (1 Pet.1:12) because they themselves have not suffered as He has, or as His followers have down here. Believers have a level or dimension of experience that is a total mystery to angels. They want to know what grace is all about. These "principalities and powers" are the angels, of whom Yah'shua (Jesus) is "the head of all principality and power" (Col.2:10, NKJV). To human beings, then, an enormous privilege has been given to understand what angels cannot understand alone, and which Yahweh will not reveal to them apart from redeemed man.
Outside the Godhead, redeemed New Covenant man was the first to come to understand "the eternal purpose" of the Father. The Hebrews before Christ had very little idea. Now this word 'eternal' we must watch carefully because it not what most suppose it to be. It translates the Greek aion meaning an 'age' or 'period of time'. The same word in the Old Testament translates the Hebrew ad which, when it refers to man, means simply 'of old' (e.g. Job 20:4). There are altogether three words in Hebrew that we unfortunately translate as 'eternity' - another is qedem (e.g. Dt.33:27) which means 'before time or place', and the last is olam (e.g. Is.60:15) which means 'something secret' (Ps.90:8). Eternity as a concept does not actually appear in the Old Testament at all.
Here Paul uses the term to mean several fixed periods of time, so our passage ought to read: "according to the purpose of the ages". According to Paul there are three ages - this age (Eph.1:21), the ages past (Eph.3:9), and the ages to come (Eph.2:7). The current age is by no means perfect - that is plain from all the suffering that continues because of man's disobedience and demonic interference. Yet for those who trust in Christ, and obey His Torah, this is a time of extraordinary grace which is revealed in the pouring out of resurrection energy. Satan, of course, has tried to counterfeit it, and has done so by establishing false churches with political and demon-mediated psychic power. The true church - the grace-filled Messianic Community, is a very different species indeed from the false one. It is accomplishing a glorious purpose that is rooted in the mystery of grace, giving us access to God Himself.
"Therefore I ask that you do not lose heart at my tribulations for you, which is your glory," said Paul to the Ephesians. In other words, don't become depressed or dispirited because you see fellow believers suffering. Paul was a prisoner as are many Christians today. He was in chains, denied physical freedom, as many Christians are today. And he said that the purpose of such was, and is, "your (our) glory".
How can we possibly get "glory" from the trials and tribulations of another soul? And I think to understand that, we need to understand better what the word 'glory' - which translates the Greek doxa - means. I am not sure what image the word 'glory' conjures up in your mind but for me it used to mean 'honour' like when someone gets acclaim or praise from admirers, or 'magnificence'. We read of the time when Yahweh's glory filled Solomon's Temple (2 Chr.7:1). When the ark of the covenant was captured by the Philistines, that same glory left Israel (1 Sam.4:21).
The word we render 'glory' means 'praise', 'honour' or 'worship'. It means Yahweh's presence. And when one part of the Body brings glory through its deeds of righteousness to Yahweh, it brings glory to itself as well. When a wife honours her husband, he honours her back, and so a cycle of glory builds up - glory upon glory. Thus it is written:
"The city [of New Jerusalem] had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light. And the nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honour into it. Its gates shall not be shut at all by day (there shall be no night there). And they shall bring the glory and the honour of the nations into it. But there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb's Book of Life" (Rev.21:23-27, NKJV).
Whenever any of us suffers for righteousness' sake, it brings glory to Yahweh and glory to the rest of the Messianic Community. These are our honours, our war decorations. Some of you may know that during the last World War the Maltese people fought so valiantly against the enemy onslaught of their islands that the King of England awarded the George Cross to the entire island people, an honour never before given. They proudly bear this medal on their national flag for by their suffering they undoubtedly helped shorten the war. In the same way, the glory of one Christian is shared by all, because we are all one mystical Bride of Christ. Therefore Paul could truthfully say that his suffering was to his fellow believers' glory and not to be disheartened.
If this concept seems remote to you, just try to remember the swelling of righteous pride in your heart when a parent or a child of yours did something magnificent and was honoured for it. When I think of the acts of self-sacrifice that my own people made in the last war, I feel a sense of pride and warmth, not because I am a nationalist but because every Christ-like deed makes deep connections in me. We connect to one another by our allegiance to Christ, and we experience one another by deeds of holiness that flow through this connectedness. Indeed, it transcends nations altogether - I can feel the same glory even when the enemy did noble things. As Christians we are able therefore to transcend tribal instincts, which are often carnal by nature, and experience other human beings as part of the universal family of man, and better, as part of the Great Family of Christ. And so, expressing this sentiment, Paul offers this prayer with love gushing from the core of his being:
"For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ), from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Ruach (Spirit) in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height -- to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God".
In this magnificent petition to heaven, the apostle asks for three things: first, that Yahweh might grant - to agree or consent - to what he is petitioning for, acknowledging God's sovereignty in all, and recognising that we must be sufficiently submitted to accept either a 'yes' or 'no' answer in the same grace of life. Secondly, that those who read this letter, as we are today, might 'comprehend' or 'understand' what he is actually saying; and finally, that the readers might be 'filled'. You see, this prayer is about power - power to grant us the strength we need in our inner man, power that we might understand, and finally to fill us with this resurrection energy that will enable us to accomplish His will. For it is as a community - as a body - that the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) comes to reside ... Yahweh is interested in a single Bride, not thousands of believers all doing their own thing. He wants harmony and unison in action, and to this end, He energises the Body as a whole. We are to be reconciled to Him in one Body rather than lots of different fragments unconnected and dispersed across the universe. Ultimately, there is no solo-salvation - it is 'one for all, and all for one', and until we attain this mind, we are but babes in the Gospel still feeding on milk. Yes, we are living stones in the Temple of Yahweh, but we are also fitted together as walls. And the holy space between those walls is not there until the joining of those living stones has taken place. Thus Peter was to write:
"Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ)" (1 Peter 2:4-5, NKJV).
The glory, you see, is in the teamwork, not in lone deeds, important though these may be too. It is through the "the width and length and depth and height" of this love, the three measurements of dimension like the New Jerusalem itself, that we come to approach the glory of our Redeemer as our Bridegroom, and it is only through togetherness with each other as the Messianic Community (church) that this is possible. Did I say three dimensions? Paul mentions four! - "width and length and depth and height". And what is the fourth? It is depth. We tend not to consider what is under our feet - our level of consciousness seems not to go beneath, unless you are a geologist or seep-sea diver. So what did Paul mean? We will let scripture explain to us:
" But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ's gift. Therefore He says:
"When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, And gave gifts to men."
(Now this, "He ascended" -- what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things)" (Eph.4:7-11, NKJV).
We speak of height, but in spiritual matters we speak of height and depth because there is an enemy dimension 'below'. Yah'shua (Jesus) 'descended' to the demonic realm to free the captives as do we, through Him, when we minister to the lost. What do we 'descend' into when we minister to the lost? The writer of Proverbs explains:
"As the heavens for height and the earth for depth,
So the heart of kings is unsearchable"
Heaven is for 'height' and earth for 'depth' - and as the Bible tells us in many places, hell is under our feet. We live on the surface on the interface between heaven and hell. We breathe the atmosphere which is immediately above the soles of our feet of which Satan is current ruler, "the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind" (Eph.2:2-3, NKJV). This is our physical atmosphere which the Bible calls the 'first heaven'. Beneath this is the 'underworld' represented by the dark, tempestuous and unpredictable sea and below that the dark earth. Parallel to our physical dimension, and directly underneath us, is hell. This is the depth into which Christ descended to liberate the captives of Satan. This 'height and depth' has a double meaning, however - for just as Satan rules below and has conquered the second heaven or astral world above, so Christ's love reaches into both and beyond into the third heaven where Satan can never reach, and which will at the consummation of history swallow up the dark kingdom of Satan both 'above' us and 'beneath' us (also see, Olive Branch, Sec.203).
Yah'shua has ascended and descended that we might be completely filled up with His glory. That has not happened yet but is our goal. No person who has any degree of unholiness or unrighteousness in him could possibly contain 'all the fullness' of Yahweh-Elohim. We all of us differ in standard and capacity to contain the fullness because of our choices and Yahweh's imposed self-limitations, so our capacity in mortality is limited. Paul explains to the Colossians:
"(Be) rooted and built up in (Christ) ... In Him dwells all the fullness ... and you are those who have been filled to the full in Him" (Col.2:7-10, C.H.Welch trans.).
Put another way, if we are truly dwelling in Christ, we are filled to the top and overflowing - 'brimming' over. Some fill up faster than others because their spiritual vessels are not carved so deep. Adversity, repentance, and sanctification may deepen the vessel which is our heart so that we can hold more and more of Christ, and yet we are all 'full to the top' when Christ dwells in us. Do you understand what I am saying? The sense of 'completeness' is felt by everyone because Christ 'fills us up', yet we can be 'filled' even more! And that is why we can all express the same gratitude, the same wonder, and the same awe - that is why we are all recipients of the same grace because we are filled to the extent we present ourselves a living sacrifice (Rom.12:1). If some believers appear deeper it is because they have presented a deeper vessel to be filled. And how have they done that? By submitting to Yahweh's sovereignty and by walking in obedience to Torah. Their suffering is all consecrated to their good because it deepens them and allowed them to be filled even more! And since we are all connected, so do we in our turn receive glory!
Those who do not want to go deeper in the Gospel will have their prayers answered. They will be filled nonetheless but only to the capacity of the vessel that they have presented to be filled. That is why there are different degrees of glory which Paul compares to the different luminosities of the sun, moon and stars (1 Cor.15:41-42). Our rewards are not the same. Yes, we are all filled to the brim but not everyone's brim is at the same place. Grace fills to the top, but our works determine how deep we want to go. All born-again believers go to 'heaven' but not everyone receives the same resurrection glory (Mt.5:19). It is really very plain to understand. The more light that fills us, the brighter we will shine. Whatever we present to Christ, He will fill to the top, and running over. Both he who prepares a space the size of a coin and he who prepares a place the size of a well will be filled, but to different capacities.
I want primarily to encourage those of you who have been through great suffering in your life that was not of your own making, though even self-inflicted suffering can benefit us in other ways. There are, for instance, many who are the victims of the most terrible abuse imaginable. But remember, the depth of horror that Satan may have carved out in your own soul can, and will be filled to the top, and overflowing, when you yield yourself to Christ. People who have been subjected to the most horrendous abuse and sadism often ask me what it is all for. They want to know the purpose of their hell. Well, there can be many reasons, but what I am speaking of today is one of them - it is so that you can be completely filled with the glory of Yah'shua's (Jesus') love. Whatever you have lost to the enemy, you will gain in proportion! Ultimately, you will lose nothing and gain everything, so Satan loses. It still requires you to relinquish sovereignty to Him, which may not be easy, but it will be absolutely and 100% worth it.
"Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the Messianic Community (church) by Messiah Yah'shua (Christ Jesus) to all generations, forever and ever. Amen".
Charles H. Welch, In Heavenly Places, The Berean Publishing Trust, 52A Wilson Street, London EC2A 2ER: 2003, p.360ff.
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