Matthew 16: 13-18;
1 Timothy 3: 14, 15;
1 Corinthians 11: 17, 18; 14: 22-25;
Acts 11: 20-26
We have been speaking of the greatness of Christ in our reading together. It is a matter which is cause for rejoicing in heaven always and should be a matter for rejoicing and celebration with us, the greatness of the One who is our Head in heaven. As we have been taught, if He is a Head in heaven, His body is here on earth; and I wish to say something about what the assembly, which is His body, is to us. I know it is a very large subject, but I just touch on the points that we have read about. The greatness of what God is doing at the present time is quite amazing.
For the last two thousand years God has wrought in relation to this first reference the Lord makes to building His assembly. It is an interesting matter that Mr Darby should translate the word 'assembly', involving a gathering together of persons, but it is not merely the persons as a multitude, but as a corporate whole, one body. The assembly is the body of Christ. That is a very big subject by itself. When the children of Israel were first alerted to their exodus from Egypt, God said to Moses that he should speak to the assembly of the children of Israel (Exod 12: 3), that was that that people were now viewed, not as a scattered community working in Egypt under the task masters - under considerable strain, but as a corporate whole. What a wonderful concept that is, that the saints who are in Christ, including, I hope, all of us here today, belong to this wonderful and august vessel which God has had in His mind.
The assembly is not an afterthought. The Scriptures, particularly Ephesians, make it clear that the assembly was, “hidden throughout the ages in God”, Eph 3: 9. That means that it was in the purpose of God that He should have a consort for Christ, an answer to Himself that might reflect glory to God. That is the ultimate that we get in Ephesians.
The Authorised Version speaks of the church and many use that expression, but the reference to church means, ‘of the Lord’, and while that is all right, it does not express as clearly as Mr Darby has the full idea of what the assembly means. There has been a departure in Christendom by many believers to what people might call ‘Churchianity’; that is, that people centre things and their lives on a church and not on Christ, whereas persons who belong to the assembly ought to centre things on a Man in glory. That is the service of the Spirit, and those who belong to the assembly have the Spirit of God within them, and are temple of God, 1 Cor 3: 16.
In Matthew the Lord raises questions about opinions, and that is extant. We could modernise this to the present time. There are many opinions in churches of believers and others who are Christian in name, and believers who have had the light of the assembly, and sadly have gone away in relation to certain matters. This results in opinions which are different from the way in which the Spirit of God is speaking. That is another important aspect that the Spirit of God is speaking to the assemblies, that is the local assemblies at the present time such as was at Corinth. We get that from the Lord’s words in Revelation 2 and 3, “He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the assemblies”, Rev 2: 7. That is an indication that persons who have the Spirit would be lending an ear to what the Spirit is saying. There are all these opinions or voices that come up. Paul speaks “There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and none of undistinguishable sound”, 1 Cor 14: 10. He says, “For also, if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself for war?”, 1 Cor 14: 8.
The Lord is testing the disciples, and we get this confession of Peter’s, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God”. How fine that is! That is the result of God’s work in Peter’s soul by itself.
Dear fellow believers, are we all conscious of that work which is come into our souls by the Holy Spirit’s operations, in that we are born anew? And are we all conscious that the Spirit of God has operated through the principle of the revelation of the Father, as the Lord says, “flesh and blood has not revealed it to thee, but my Father who is in the heavens”? That is, it has its origin in heaven and it means that its destiny is going to be there too. The assembly belongs to heaven, and while we are down here, while the Spirit of God is enlisted to do the building of the assembly that the Lord has in mind in this chapter, heaven is the real destiny. That is where we will be.
The greatness of what is revealed to Peter is a real matter, “I say unto thee that thou art Peter, and on this rock I will build my assembly”. The Lord is building and He has been building, all these centuries, twenty of them. What a wonderful thing that persons are moving forward, century after century, and the Lord is building! The Spirit of God is enlisted to do the work, and the work belongs to God. Being born anew is in some sense a mysterious matter - God is working in your soul. Peter then comes out with this confession which shows that God’s work, the revelation from the Father was there in his soul. Let us be truly conscious as to the greatness of this, the sheer magnificence that God should come and start anew in your soul and mine. The assembly is composed of persons like that. That is the building - “on this rock I will build my assembly”. The confession that Peter made shows that it was there and it says, “hades’ gates shall not prevail against it”. While the body is an organism, which suggests the inward part relating to the assembly, the Lord's word “I will build my assembly, and hades' gates will not prevail against it” shows that God has in view an outward manifestation also.
When we come to Timothy we find that there is something additional which is connected with God’s house, and is connected with our conduct in relation to God’s house, the assembly of the living God. Paul says, “if I delay, in order that thou mayest know how one ought to conduct oneself in God’s house”; that is, he was taking time by experience and reflection to see how Timothy would proceed in a practical way and exhibit and show what was there of God - of Christ. The assembly of the living God is the outward expression of it. The pillar suggests that there is a testimony there, you can see it, “the pillar and base of the truth”. That is a very challenging matter, because I feel challenged as to whether I am alongside the saints in assembly convening in support of the base of the truth. The base is an expression of what the assembly is by the Spirit here. The Spirit of God is in the assembly. The Spirit of God has come to take up His abode in each one and in the house, in the assembly, a very important aspect. These things are not to be merely doctrinal with us. Paul speaks of the base and the pillar of the truth and he means that it will be supported. There is no doubt about it, but whether I am in the support is another question, and I would like each one of us to be in it, actively and livingly supporting the assembly of the “living God”. The Spirit of God is livingly and actively in it. What about the principles of the truth? The assembly as coming out of the death of Christ demonstrates something which is completely different. The scripture says “for the Spirit is the truth”, 1 John 5: 6. The Lord Jesus was the truth when He was here in manhood, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14: 6) and He still is that. He is unchanged, but in testimony the Spirit is here, resident in the assembly. Do I support what is proceeding? Are the principles maintained, those principles that have been secured at such cost, the death of Christ, resulting in the glory of Christ, and the Spirit having been given to us, being sent from heaven? That is a challenge that we should take up, that the base of the truth might be maintained and kept in all our places. The local assembly is spoken of in Corinth. This is the general position that Paul is speaking about.
The pillar is another interesting thing and it is associated with our testimony, that which can be seen. I think it may be ornamental as well. It would adorn the position for God.
In Corinthians Paul tells the saints how these matters are worked out in each local place. In 1 Corinthians 11, we have the very important matter of the Supper, which those who love the Lord Jesus would always value. Coming to the Supper is not optional - I use that word in accordance with what Paul says, because when he speaks of ministry meetings in chapter 14 he says, “If therefore the whole assembly come together in one place”, but in chapter 11, he says, “For first, when ye come together in assembly” That is, that those who love Christ will undoubtedly come together, those who are washing their robes (Rev 22: 14); those who are morally clear, and sound, and separate from the world will come to the Lord’s supper. It is not optional, “when ye come together”. Do I come together in that spirit that the Lord’s supper leads me to the service of praise to God? It leads us to the area where not only are there sons who are brought to the Father, but there is a vessel, the assembly, giving glory to God, and in the midst of which Christ sings. Would I miss that? Why should I miss it? If I am absent through illness, that is another matter. What I stress is this matter of coming together in assembly, “when ye come together in assembly”; that is, you have the assembly of the living God in your heart and mind. You are assembling together with others who are of the same thought and mind and desire and you are one with them. The coming together envisages one corporate whole. For some of the younger people that may be difficult to work out and see, but, if the Lord leaves you here in the testimony for a year or two yet, you will come to see, dear young fellow believer, the greatness of what it is to have this living entity in your heart and mind and to respect every one in it. And to respect what God has done. He has brought us to Christ to come to know our Saviour and Friend. He has brought us to know the Holy Spirit livingly in our lives, and we appreciate that in each one. So, as we gather together it is not just a formality, it is not just to do certain things, to read hymns out of a hymn book, and make certain prayers out of a prayer book and then go home. No, there is a living character about it because we belong to a living organism which is associated with the living Spirit of God and the living God Himself. Let us be encouraged to understand that as we gather together for the Lord’s supper there is the sense in which the magnificence of what God has done outside of anything that we are ordinarily or naturally, comes together. The saints assemble themselves and present themselves there at the Lord’s supper that there might be a manifestation afresh of the glory of Christ.
When we come to chapter 14 we have Paul speaking about prophecy. He speaks about prayer in the assembly and that is another important matter that we should attend to. In the assembly what is brought out is the importance, not of the tongues, but of the prophecy. Paul stresses that. The idea of prophecy brings us to the introduction through one and another of the mind of God for the moment. What God has in His mind in a meeting for ministry for brethren in a place must be living because it comes in as the “living and abiding word of God”, 1 Pet 1: 23. We should be concerned, beloved brothers, as we enter into the ministry meeting, that there is this character of prophecy bringing in the mind of God for the moment, what is current, “He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the assemblies”, Rev 2: 7. What Paul says is that if you are going to speak with tongues and simple persons or unbelievers come in they are going to say, ‘you are mad, I cannot understand it’, but if you bring the current mind of God in, there is a living character in it. What effect is that going to have on those who are present? There will be a quickening touch, something that will rouse things in your life, or maybe rouse something in the lives of others who come in. What a good thing that is, the living character of prophecy being brought in at the present time, and it is associated with the desire of persons to gather together, “If therefore the whole assembly come together in one place … and a simple person enters in, or an unbeliever, … he is convicted of all, he is judged of all; the secrets of his heart are manifested; and thus, falling upon his face, he will do homage to God”. That is, that persons are secured for the service of God. They are secured in conviction, repentance - falling down involves that. If there are underlying matters that need to be attended to, God will have a living word for it, but it would bring in something that would set us forward because primarily the ministry meeting is intended to bring in consolation and encouragement and edification.
These things are very testing and it is important for us as we gather together for ministry that we do not say what persons cannot understand. We speak the living word of God for the moment, for that week. It is also important that the impressions that the Spirit of God gives to one and another should come forward. Young brothers should be encouraged not to remain silent. If you have an impression from the Lord’s supper or from some meeting that has fastened on to you, then as you read the Scriptures and read the ministry and follow it up, do not be slow to bring that impression forward. It is not just old brothers that take part in ministry meetings. It should also include younger men coming forward with something living, active and fresh that would bring in their part and enjoyment as we gather together in the assembly. We come together to express what is of Christ. How living it becomes.
As we go on we find in Acts that there are two other aspects of the assembly. First of all there was Cornelius in chapter 10 who was a Gentile, and then in chapter 11 we find that certain ones who went out from Jerusalem and Samaria went as far as Antioch and spoke to Greeks. It was a momentous time in the testimony. The assembly does not comprise only persons who had a Jewish background, but persons of every nation. Revelation brings that out, “out of every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation”, Rev 5: 9. How extensively God has worked. They announce “the glad tidings of the Lord Jesus” which is an assembly expression. “The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord. And the report concerning them reached the ears of the assembly which was in Jerusalem”. It is a very interesting matter that the assembly listens to what is proceeding which is of value to God in the testimony. If we use a current example we might cite the interest the brethren have had in the revival in certain souls in India, where there has been so much interest in the truth. God has been active, and there has been increase from it. That has reached our ears, the ears of the assembly. It is not just the news of what happens in families, in the young people getting engaged and married, and so on. It is what is of interest to the testimony of God reaching the ears of the assembly.
Then these persons send out Barnabas. It says, “he went away to Tarsus to seek out Saul”. Quite clearly God was giving a living, current word to that man in relation to the movements of the testimony. Why would he go and look out Saul? But God has in mind the full revelation of the assembly. It is true that the basis was there in the twelve, but the full light of the mystery as to Christ and the assembly was left to Paul. He had it immediately on his conversion, “why persecutest thou me?” Acts 22: 7. Christ was in glory but His assembly was down here, His body was here. These saints Saul was persecuting, who were despised as the offscouring of the world, they were Christ’s assembly. Then we read, “And so it was with them”, not just Barnabas, “that for a whole year they were gathered together in the assembly and taught a large crowd”. That is another aspect that God has set certain in the assembly, as Paul tells the Corinthians, 1 Cor 12: 28. He also speaks in Ephesians 4 as to Christ ascended on high having given gifts to men, v 12. That is respected. The assembly does not preach or teach, but persons are set in it that they might teach, and that they might shepherd. There is shepherding continuing in the assembly - “shepherd the assembly of God”, Acts 20: 28. There are many gifts, but this matter of shepherding and teaching is very important for us. “They were gathered together in the assembly and taught a large crowd: and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch”. That means that there must have been some real evidence that the teaching had an effect before they were actually called Christians at Antioch, followers of Christ. There must have been Christ-like features there with the persons before they would be called Christians. But what I want to emphasise is the importance of the teaching, and the need for it.
Dear young brethren, many of us are getting older and if the Lord does not come soon, we will not be here; will the testimony of the assembly be in your hands, and you not be taught in the truth? The teaching is specific. You must give yourselves to the Scriptures. Many things have to be attended to, the study at school, or work, or business, but do not let it crowd out the Lord’s things - the things of the assembly. What are more important for eternity? The things of the assembly are, because she is the consort of Christ, she is at present the wife of Christ. That is another aspect of the assembly that she cares, caring for the interests of the Lord in His absence. Soon she will be the bride of Christ, coming out as John gives the picture in the Revelation as a bride “adorned for her husband”, Rev 21: 2. Paul was giving instruction to these people. It is the same in Acts 19 as to the disciples who first came to light in Ephesus. There was contention over what they were speaking about, and Paul separated the disciples. He wanted them to be in an area where they would understand the truth of the assembly, where they would understand the greatness and glory of Christ, where they would understand the mystery hidden throughout the ages in God, Eph 3: 9. If we do not follow the teaching of the Scriptures and the teaching of the ministries of the revival then we may be at a loss and may find ourselves being tripped up by Satan in some things that we do because we do not know the teaching.
Dear young people, I encourage you to spend time reading the Scriptures. Paul emphasises that to Timothy, “which are able to make thee wise unto salvation”, 2 Tim 3: 15. That is complete salvation. Every scripture is profitable. Then the ministries of the revival in the nineteenth century are very important. These ministries have opened up the Scriptures to us, authoritative ministry, much of which was provided through enquiry in the temple by which God revealed and unfolded these previously hidden thoughts in the Scriptures. We should follow it and take time to understand a little of it. Do not expect to read a whole series of Mr James Taylor’s readings at three day meetings and hope to understand it all at once! Do it a piece at a time, that is the idea of being taught for a whole year. It will all help to contribute to our part in the assembly and the service of God.
There are other things which we have not spoken about, such as shepherding the assembly of God, and Paul speaks about Phoebe as a deaconess of the assembly, Rom 16: 1. There are many other matters of care and interest, but eventually God is going to gather all together in this wonderful corporate vessel which will be the bride of Christ and which will express glory to God. We would not like to be left out of that would we?
May we be encouraged that these few thoughts would stimulate our desire that we might enter into the appreciation more and more of what the assembly is and our part in it and our respect for one another in it. Paul says, “each esteeming the other as more excellent than themselves”, Phil 2: 3. That is the true assembly spirit because it follows the spirit of Jesus.
May we be encouraged by these thoughts. For His Name’s sake.
17th March 2007