2 Timothy 2: 18-22
Hebrews 13: 10-14
Revelation 3: 7-13
GJR We have in the last four readings been looking into what we might learn from scripture as to Christian fellowship. We began with the peace offering in Leviticus 4 and 7, then Paul’s setting out the principle of God’s call, being “called into the fellowship of his Son”, 1 Cor 1: 9. We saw the record of its practical effect, in the early days of Christianity as seen in the book of the Acts 2: 42-47. We then looked at the truth of the Lord’s table in 1 Cor 10: 16-22, not the table on which the emblems stand, but the fellowship. Then from 1 Cor 11: 23-29 we have instruction regarding the Lord’s supper, partaking of which is the expression of fellowship; and how we come into that by washing our robes, Rev 22: 14. The account in Acts 10 of the qualities seen in Cornelius provided an example of one whose associations of life were so regulated. We noted how fellowship with one another was maintained through the blood of Jesus Christ His Son, which cleanses us from all sin, 1 John 1: 7.
We then looked at the word of Jehovah to Rehoboam in 2 Chron 11: 1-4 following the division of the kingdom, and how Jehovah said, “this thing is from me”. Not only had a king been unfaithful, but a people had too. In accepting the discipline, and the public shame that it brought, (for it was done in the presence of surrounding nations) the king of Judah was prospered and his territory became a haven for displaced priests from the cities in the other tribes’ territories. Then Abijah addressed Jeroboam a few years later (2 Chron 13: 4-11) and asserted the covenant which Jehovah had made with David, and in doing so he addressed the whole of Israel. It was as if he was maintaining - in the language of Christianity - the truth of the one body. We noted that, although Abijah could not in his conduct be regarded as an example for much of his life, at that time he rose to be a type of someone who appreciated the truth of the one body when it was practically and publicly denied all around.
The scriptures we have now read might help us to appreciate what is assembly ground, and that fellowship is to be enjoyed at that level. I think it is easy to understand what has been suggested, that the first epistle of Paul to Timothy is very much like what was communicated to Moses on the mountain: the second epistle is very much like his conduct following the failure of the people. We could have read, “all who are in Asia … have turned away from me”, 2 Tim 1: 15. It is an obscure comment which has great significance and I suggest we might ponder that along with the scriptures we have read. It does not say that they have turned away from Christ, and when he says “all who are in Asia”, I take it that that included the assembly at Ephesus where so much had been developed; and yet they had turned away from Paul. We know what the Lord says to the assembly at Ephesus in His address to them in Revelation, and that something had happened which perhaps only the Lord had noticed. This touches the heart of our experience here, of our being rightly here: “thou hast left thy first love”. I feel hardly qualified to speak of that. Something had happened that may have been outwardly imperceptible, but something inwardly had changed. Perhaps the effect of that was that they, as others, turned away from Paul.
It may be fair to say that, as far as the condition of things at the end of Paul’s life was concerned, he may have died a heart-broken man because it seems he had only a few with him. He says, “Luke alone is with me. Take Mark, and bring him with thyself”, 2 Tim 4: 11. So it would appear that, of the many persons alluded to in the New Testament, Paul may have had just three or four sympathisers left. Out of the vast extent of his work, persons had turned away from him. I think that may have been the consequence of that spark, which had once motivated the brethren and the assemblies, somehow being lost. Had we only Paul’s writings we would conclude that it had never been recovered, but we have John. We know that Revelation was not the last scripture to be written but I am confident it was written after Paul’s second letter to Timothy. As we know John lived on long after Paul. Paul was put to death, John was exiled; he had a vision of the Lord communicating to him about something which was recovery to a condition of affection which had the character of first love in Philadelphia. We know that historically that assembly also died out; there were at least seven assemblies in Asia Minor (today’s Turkey) which are no more. The territory is largely Muslim and has been for hundreds of years. I think every interested soul would be exercised to see if there is anything available in the present day which corresponds to what the Lord Jesus could commend in that address to the assembly at Philadelphia.
GR It must have been a matter of sorrow for Paul to have to write the second epistle to Timothy because breakdown had come in. While we all acknowledge our part in the breakdown, it does on the other hand provide an area where what is peculiarly precious to God can be developed in triumph. In a way, is it to be expected that the public history of the church should be any different from the public service of the Lord Jesus which ended in outward ignominy and shame and apparent failure? The natural man might expect that what was established on a firm basis on the death of Christ and the Spirit would proceed from glory to glory, but publicly it has not been so. Yet through that, God is working by the Spirit and bringing up something which is choice in overcomers. The Lord Himself could refer to Himself, “as I also have overcome”, Rev 3: 21. So that publicly we cannot expect any more than what was seen publicly at the end of the Lord’s service in all His perfection; and yet there is something secured - excellence being formed which will go through - as it was in the Lord’s work in the disciples. What wonderful apostles they were, what they were will be carried forward into the millennium and eternal conditions in spite of the public breakdown.
GJR Prophetically the Lord Jesus could say, “I have laboured in vain, I have spent my strength for nought”, Isa 49: 4. Should we remember this difference: that the Lord Jesus was the testimony, and there was no failure on His part. He was the vessel of the testimony, He was the truth, and there was no failure there. The failure has been that of the recipients, the church as a public body has failed as a vessel of testimony.
GR We must recognise that difference. In the world’s view Christianity has failed and we have failed too. We know that intrinsic difference, but there is public failure.
GJR People say that religion has caused a lot of wars, and that religions all make a lot of their own leader, but the great distinction is that there is one Man out of death. God has only raised one Man out of death. He has not raised Buddha or Mohammed. In the presence of hundreds of witnesses, He had one Man whom He raised from the dead.
RDP-r I always find very encouraging what Paul writes to Timothy, “the things thou has heard of me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men, such as shall be competent to instruct others also” (2 Tim 2: 2), Paul has not given up what he has brought in; “all who are in Asia … have turned away from me” does not alter the basic fundamental truths that have been set out and are to be carried through. 2 Timothy is very encouraging.
GR It says “faithful men”, not apostles or appointed bishops or anything formal like that, but persons who are morally faithful.
RDP-r I think there is a basis for the matter of fellowship to be continued until the Lord comes; the principles of it we should not adjust to circumstances.
GR We have been speaking of the essential need for separation for the service of God to proceed. That would apply to fellowship too.
RDP-r I think we need to see what fellowship is for. It is not just to have links amongst the saints; it is in view of what is for God.
GJR It is for the glory of His Son. We touched on that in our earlier reading when the question was asked, ’Why does it matter, why is this important?’. Divine pleasure is at stake.
We had reference to faithful men in Timothy: is it possible to identify such in Exodus, apart from Moses who certainly was faithful?
MJC We spoke of Joshua last week as someone who departed not from within the tent and there is no limit in verse 7 “… every one who sought Jehovah went out to the tent of meeting”; it does not restrict the number. What does being outside the camp mean? We made a distinction between those who are outside the camp and those who remained at the entrance of their own tents. I imagine that there are many persons who would desire to be outside the camp, but that does not itself bring them all together. So what is the meaning of ‘outside the camp’? That expression is used by ecclesiastical positions, and so on. How can we intelligently understand it? The scripture in Hebrews exhorts us to go “outside the camp”, but just taking that up in exercise does not seem automatically to bring all such people together. In terms of the practicality of fellowship, if persons are exercised as to being outside the camp, what does it mean in practice?
GR I rather doubt how many persons there are who would be intelligent enough about being “outside the camp” to desire it. I think there are many believers who desire to be faithful to the Lord who have virtually no light as to the assembly, who just want to go on in an individual pathway, but with no idea of the camp.
MJC It is impossible for us to say: the scripture as to the Lord knowing those who are His comes in from His side. I would doubt if the knowledge of the truth of the assembly was limited to a few thousand, or even a few hundred thousand believers.
GR I suppose we would have to say that it is a moral position taken up those by those who have a desire for it. It is not a public position.
MJC We need to understand what we mean by that - that is where sectarianism comes in.
GR Does the idea run parallel with dwelling in a corner of the house-top (Prov 21: 9 and 25: 24); we cannot get out of the house itself. There must be a difference between the house and the camp. We do not speak of the camp now so much, it is the great house.
GJR The language that the writer to the Hebrews selected was language which would have been readily understood by the readers. I am reluctant to speak of this, and need to do so carefully and humbly, but these words “go forth to him without the camp” are very beautiful. We need to bear in mind that we are talking about a huge, irrevocable, life-changing move whether described here in Hebrews or in Exodus. Other faithful men in Exodus were of the tribe of Levi: “Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, He that is for Jehovah, let him come to me. And all the sons of Levi gathered to him”, Exod 32: 26. They were faithful men and by their stand they alienated themselves from all who were not for Jehovah. “Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, He that is for Jehovah, let him come to me”. Imagine the hush; Moses was asking persons to disassociate themselves publicly and finally from what they had been involved in.
GR Moses would be God’s representative at that time?
GJR I am sure of that. He said, “He that is for Jehovah, let him come to me”. The sons of Levi stood up and came to him, “all the sons of Levi gathered to him”. He then tells them to do something which would have been a very hard thing if it was not that they were motivated by love for Jehovah. I think we must, in all our consideration, remember that there is only one thing that is valid and that is affection for Christ: love for Him. We are not talking about selecting a company of persons; rather, I trust we would have in our affections some element of jealousy for the Lord. That is what led the tribe of Levi to do what they did. In Hebrews the word is, “let us go forth to him without the camp”. You need to leave all that you are comfortable with, and you go out to a crucified (but now glorified) Man: “let us go forth to him without the camp, bearing his reproach”. I do not think anyone would be motivated to do that were it not for their love for the Lord. It is to Him, we cannot over-emphasise that, if we are going to leave the camp, whatever that means, it must be to go out to Him. Peter said to the Lord when he was on the water, “Lord, it if be thou, command me to come to thee upon the waters. And he said, Come. And Peter, having descended from the ship, walked upon the waters to go to Jesus”, Matt 14: 28, 29. These are huge things that are taking place in persons’ lives and I do not think any amount of persuasion or arguing would ever induce anyone to do it: it can only be done in affection for Christ.
GR Peter said, “Lord, to whom shall we go?”, John 6: 68.
MJR Those who remained in the camp could not go beyond their own tent - how would you explain that they rose and worshipped? They were still in the camp, were they not?
GJR The challenge is that today I might recognise the greatness of the fact that there is a living Christian fellowship, there is a circle where that fellowship can be enjoyed, and where the presence of God is known. We know something of the divine presence when we are together and yet I might not actually let that govern my life. They stood in their own tents, their own homes, their own circumstances, and they wondered at and were moved in their souls as to the greatness of Jehovah. Perhaps they were touched in their affections that, despite their failure and their sin, the divine presence was still among them. It was when they saw the cloud, “And all the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance of the tent; and all the people rose and worshipped”. It is like saying, ’Despite all our sins, the Lord is still with us, His presence is still with us’. That is wonderful, and yet they did not go out to Moses. That is a challenge to me, am I just an admirer? Do I wonder? But then do I go back home and not let it really govern my life?
Another aspect of this scripture is that, if through grace we know something of being outside the camp, if we know something about the tent of meeting, then we remember that there are probably vast numbers of persons who are in the camp in whom the work of God is and we respect that. I would have to say that many of those are more devoted Christians than I am. But would I go back into the camp to hear them? There are probably greater preachers there than I am; there will be, far greater; but would I go back and join them? There are great gifted preachers, but would the sons of Levi go back to hear them? I do not doubt the sons of Levi prayed for the preachers in the camp.
GR We tend to be greatly affected by gift, and manifestations of power. I think what you draw attention to is vitally important: affection for Christ - that should govern us, but it is a test.
GJR Going back to the matter of the camp and going out from the camp, I remember speaking to a couple who we once had fellowship with and who went away. They were seeking their way back and they said, ‘We went out of the camp and we found ourselves in another camp’. Happily they were restored. I am sure we have all had the feeling that there are conditions among us that we are not happy with and we have thought of leaving, but I know that would not have been going out to the Lord. Mr Darby says that some may get hold of particular evil which galls their flesh and they leave the company, Collected Writings vol 1 p351. If the Spirit sanctions the body and they leave, they will put themselves out of touch with the blessing of God’s presence. We would all know that - that sense that something which is evil galls my flesh: reacting like that is not going out to the Lord.
GR I was very exercised as to that thirty to forty years ago, when it was very difficult to decide whether to go or to stay. Alas, we have lost many who never came back, but what have we to learn from that?
GJR Scripture says that we are to pursue glorious positive things with other persons - you might say simple persons.
GR What do we understand as to Moses returning to the camp while “Joshua … departed not from within the tent”?
GJR I think there is very important instruction in that. Please help us.
RDP-r I wondered whether we have to see that the Lord in His movements is able to do what we cannot. Moses represented the Lord, and He is able to move amongst the camp. The camp is not the world; it is a place where God is known, maybe imperfectly, but it relates to the area where God is known, and the Lord is able to move amongst them. He must be, because we meet persons who are very bright in the Lord, they know what He has done for them, but few seem to have this real knowledge of what is for His heart. I think the Lord is gathering a great many in on that basis. But Joshua is one who came to the judgement that this (the tent) is the place to be and he does not depart from it. Because the Lord can do those things it does not give us licence to do them ourselves, but we cannot limit Him or the Spirit in their movements.
GR So we cannot limit the Lord in His movements on Lord’s day morning when we break bread, but that does not give us licence to go elsewhere.
RDP-r A great deal of what has come in and has caused confusion is because of the mind of man, and personal feelings have come in too. There are persons who have the light as to the truth of the assembly but are in different paths, for one cause or another. Often the truth that they understand is the same, but they are walking alone at the present time. The challenge is as to why this is.
GR So 2 Timothy 2 brings up association. That scripture is so well known, and has been quoted many times, “Yet the firm foundation of God stands”. Then we have this two sided seal: what the Lord knows and then what we need to do. It is individual. Is there a difference between the great house spoken of here and what has been referred to as the camp? We cannot get out of this house, can we?
GJR I wondered if what is set out in 1 Timothy is the pattern of the tabernacle. That was glorious. The ark was the centre and God dwelt there, His people were regulated there, His people approach Him through it. I wondered how the camp corresponds to the great house in 2 Timothy. They both speak of Christendom, and embrace all believers and perhaps more, the whole profession. I suppose it embraces the mainstream churches, the Church of England, the Swiss Church, the Roman Catholic church, the non-conformist churches. I am not sure that you could include the cults because you could hardly regard the cults as Christian, though I have no doubt there are Christians within them. There are sects, for example, which deny the eternal personality of the Lord Jesus and the personality of the Holy Spirit. I do not see how you could say that is Christian. I think the camp includes all who profess Christian truth.
RDP-r I think for ourselves it has come down to a matter of simplicity. It is not just a position, but I believe there is what is marked by the presence of the Spirit of God at the present time. I think there is a difference between the Spirit’s presence in individuals, and the Spirit’s presence in the company. There are many that have received the Spirit, but the Lord’s present mind is discovered in a special way where the Spirit is active as the saints are gathered. I believe the Spirit’s direct speaking and the mind of the Lord as to what is really for the heart of Christ relates to a company.
GJR We would all love to have a part in that company.
RDP-r I think we should be exercised if there are others who are seeking to be on the same ground as to what actually keeps us apart. We have been through some very serious exercises of late in this regard, and I have to be very careful of excluding those that I have known in the past. I feel that there is a sense of the Spirit speaking and ministering Christ amongst the saints in a peculiar way. The danger is that we make the company something official as a result of that.
GR Would you agree that whilst you might have the privilege of enjoying the experience of divine speaking, I might be in a state that is out of it at any given time? It is not fixed in that sense; it needs to be maintained in exercise.
RDP-r In Exodus they had to go out to the tent, and we need to be maintained in that spirit of exercise to seek the things of the Lord. If the Lord is speaking, would we want to be anywhere but where He is speaking? That is the great thing on occasions like this; we would seek to be present, so as not to miss something of what the Lord is saying.
GJR Have you more to say about leaving the camp?
MJC In practical terms we break bread with one another on a regular basis, but we need to be constantly proving ourselves; it is not simply a membership card and that is it. It is a practical matter which we may be able to hide quite successfully from other people, but in terms of the reality of it is down to our own state. We do not want to put too much upon ourselves - our hearts condemning us. There is what is greater and the Lord would not desire us to be over-occupied in our own limitations; but it is not automatic and we can easily fall into that.
GR “Let a man prove himself, and thus eat of the bread”, 1 Cor 11: 28. It is positive, not stay away: go ahead and face it, prove yourself, and then eat. Many, alas, have given up.
RDP-r If we have the privilege of knowing these things and holding them, we would not hold them just for ourselves: we need to hold them as available for all the saints, so that they are available for any to come and share. I think there would need to be a commitment in relation to it when you are speaking of fellowship, it is not ‘come and go’, but you would hold these things for the Lord’s people, have the whole assembly in view.
MJC “With those that call upon the Lord out of a pure heart” is not a doctrine or creed, this is a matter of affection.
GR What is “call upon the Lord”? What does that mean? We often use these words; does it imply that we own the lordship of Christ and so call upon His Name? Does it imply dependence upon Him, looking to Him as our Lord and Head?
RDP-r He is spoken of as “the Master”. Would that go along with what you are saying, dependence and subjection?
MJC It would appear from this that it is not a collective action; it is individuals who do this? It seems to be something which is individual, experiencing different things, and what is beyond that, or fuller, as together. This seems to be where we start as individuals.
GR We have often been told that the position is an individual one, but we can get beyond what is individual.
GJR ”Call upon the Lord out of a pure heart” would suggest to me that these are persons who have no strength in themselves. They are weak persons, so weak that they have to call upon the Lord; they have nothing here. They are simple, “out of a pure heart”. There is nothing about them that is political or complicated; they simply are committed to the Lord. There is more than one, “with those”. The Lord in John’s gospel (written later than this) does say, “If any one love me, he will keep my word … and we will come to him”, John 14: 23. Here it is “with those”, this is not a path which makes us into loners.
RDP-r Is this not the kernel of fellowship: we are of the same mind? That is, it is persons of a like mind who desire to be here for the Lord and to serve Him, but if we are going to serve the Lord we have to remember who He is, and that is why this matter of purification and sanctification is essential. That is individual; we have to see that our condition is suited in relation to the greatness of who He is? It is not something that we can do in a natural way, but behind all this is the Spirit’s prompting, the Spirit’s help in relation to these things. It is all in view of there being right conditions for serving the Lord.
GR How wonderful it must have been when Mr Darby and a few others really applied the scripture; it must have been an experience!
RDP-r At that time they experienced a lot of opposition because persons whom they left almost took it as an insult as if they were not good enough, but we need to examine ourselves as to that, as to whether we really are suitable to gather to the Lord’s Name, or would He have to come in as He did in Revelation and say “I have against thee ...” (2: 4). It is quite a searching matter to “call upon the Lord out of a pure heart”.
GJR You referred to the sensitivity of what is pleasing to the Lord. There are some dear brethren who would make everything of inward purity. This is not simply that: “call upon the Lord out of a pure heart” is inward purity, but it does actually involve separating from persons. Paul in 2 Corinthians says, “Having therefore these promises, beloved, let us purify ourselves from every pollution of flesh and spirit” (chap 7: 1), as though there is the outward and the inward. You cannot simply say, ’I am pure in my heart, but I will go along with persons who are not clear as to the truth’. This scripture makes it quite plain that it is necessary actually to separate as far as fellowship is concerned from persons, be they very bright believers, if necessary, so that we may pursue these precious things with those who “call upon the Lord out of a pure heart”.
RDP-r Purification starts inwardly. It has a practical external effect, but it has to start inwardly.
GJR Yes. On another occasion if the brethren are willing I would like help as to why Mr Darby, and many others who felt compelled to leave the established church, did not join one of the dissenting churches.
24th July 2008