John A Brown
Psalm 45: 6, 7
Colossians 2: 11-14
1 Samuel 25: 29 (to “God”)
Hebrews 3: 14
Philemon 17-19, 1-6
These verses from Psalm 45 were read last Lord’s day afternoon, and they confirmed the impression that I had for this meeting, dear brethren. I want to speak about companionship and partnership, and “the bundle of the living”. What a privilege it is to know that, as believers, we are companions of Christ, but it is even better to experience it and to enjoy it. This verse in Psalm 45 brings it before us very attractively. We often speak about it in the service of God; we speak to the Lord Jesus, and about how He is exalted in His place of supremacy, “anointed … with the oil of gladness above thy companions”. In everything that we say and think about the Lord Jesus, we always guard His supremacy; it is above His companions. That, dear young brethren, is why I do not call the Lord Jesus my brother. There are many believers who do that, and I would not criticise them if they do not know any better. We are His brethren, but He is anointed with the oil of gladness above His companions. We guard the supremacy, the uniqueness and the glory of Jesus. Every time we speak to Him, every time we speak about Him, we remember who He is; but, nevertheless, what a wonderful thing it is to know that we are recognised by Him as His companions.
I would like to convey the immense privilege of being acknowledged by the Lord Jesus as His companions. He needs companions. That is why He came to this world. He came to save sinners - blessed be His Name! - but He came to obtain companions. He came, of course, to win His assembly. He came to fulfil the Father’s will. There are so many things we could speak about which the Lord Jesus came to do and to secure, but He came to secure companions for His pleasure and for the pleasure of our God and Father. We often refer to how He sings in the assembly (Heb 2: 12); He sings with those whom He has secured for the pleasure of God. It is a wonderful thing to remember that when you are at work, or when you are walking down the street; you are one of the Lord’s companions. That will change the way you think about your behaviour, the way that you act. There is a dignity about being a companion of Christ, although of course it is always spoken of in the collective, as is sonship. I remember being told about a brother who who spent an hour telling a visitor what a wonderful privilege it was that he, one of the believers among the millions of people in the city where he lived, had been marked out by God as one of His sons. The dignity and the distinctiveness of sonship was in that man’s heart. He lived in a shack with an earth floor, but what absorbed him was the privilege of what it was to be one of the sons of God.
I have been thinking of the dignity and the privilege of being companions of the Lord Jesus. But there is a moral basis for that privilege, and in these verses that we have read in Psalm 45 it says,
… a sceptre of uprightness is the sceptre of thy kingdom:
Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated wickedness;
therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee with
the oil of gladness above thy companions.
We can say that there is a moral reason for everything that God does. Think of the basis that the Lord Jesus has given God: “a sceptre of uprightness”. The kingdom of God is marked by that; it is marked by what is right. The Lord Jesus came here in all the blessedness of His holy Person and He exemplified that:
… a sceptre of uprightness is the sceptre of thy kingdom;
Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated wickedness.
And so God has done this, “anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy companions”. How glad the Lord Jesus is, speaking very carefully and reverently, to have companions who can appreciate Him, who can appreciate His glory, who can appreciate what He has done for them, but more than that, who can appreciate something of what God the Father finds in Him.
There is a moral way for us into the enjoyment of companionship, and that moral way is set out in Colossians. You may have noticed the three references to “with him”. First of all, it speaks of circumcision “in the putting off of the body of the flesh”. That refers to the death of Christ. Then in the last verse we read, it speaks of how the Lord Jesus, has “effaced the handwriting in ordinances which stood out against us”. What was against us, Jesus has taken away. What “was contrary to us, he has taken it also out of the way, having nailed it to the cross”. I trust, dear brethren, that everyone here has experienced coming to Christ. Maybe in wretchedness, in despair, in need, but coming in faith; putting your faith in that blessed One, the Son of God, who has loved you and given Himself for you (Gal 2: 20), coming in repentance but knowing that He has taken away all that stood against you. This is not a gospel preaching, but there is never a time when we cannot preach the gospel. I trust that you are in the experience of what I am speaking about, knowing that the Lord Jesus has died for you to take away what stood out against you. There is only one way for you to have that handwriting removed and that is through faith in the work of Jesus, the One who took it away and nailed it to the cross. What a Saviour He is. Once it is away, it never can come back again. I have forgotten most of the sins I ever committed, but when I come into the presence of my God on my knees, I can speak to Him without a cloud. That handwriting has been taken away. What a wonderful thing that is – otherwise, how could we be free in the presence of God? That is what Jesus has done.
But there is something else: not only has He died for me, but then I have to come to it that I have died too. I have died with Him; but I have to put to death the deeds of the body and that is a hard thing to do. I have to see that all that I am according to nature, the good things and the bad things, have to be put to death, and they have been put away in the death of Christ. That is true of me as a believer, but I have to come to it in my experience. So there is a sequence of moral steps, which are sometimes difficult for us to understand and accept, but we have them here. First of all "buried with him in baptism”. I think that everyone here has been baptised. You probably cannot remember it although there will be a few dear believers here who have been baptised in adulthood. It is what baptism involves that matters, “buried with him in baptism”. That means that what we are after the flesh, the amiable things as well as the disreputable things, have all been put away in the burial of the Lord Jesus. That forms the moral basis of the way we must come into the blessed experience of being “companions of the Christ”. Nothing of that first order of man is any use to God, and it is all gone in the death of Jesus. If I have myself before me, I cannot enjoy the companionship of Christ, although others around me may. You may have had the experience, as I have had, of sitting in a meeting and seeing others around me enjoying it and knowing that I am not in the good of it myself. Well, if you have had that experience, or if you are having it at this very moment, then the Lord Jesus would reach out to you in His grace and draw you. He would say, ‘I want you; I need you close to me’. The closer we get to God, Mr Stoney said, the closer we get to Christ, and the closer we get to one another, vol 4 p288. Christianity is a wonderful system of relationships. It is a sphere, a realm of relationships. I desire that everyone here has accepted that what we are has gone in the death and burial of the Lord Jesus. This is the truth of baptism.
Then we have been “raised with him”. What a wonderful thing that is! The fact that Jesus has been raised is the foundation of my faith. People were making a fool of a young man, saying, ‘You are a Christian, but God is dead.’ He said, ‘He cannot be dead; I was speaking to Him this morning’. He is a living Saviour, alive, real, and we are “raised with him”. This is the essence of Christianity; not words, not even the Scriptures, although we need the word of God, and, of course, it is living, Heb 4: 12. But the essence of Christianity is a living relationship with a Man who is risen and we are risen with Him. When you are risen with Christ, it gives you a different view of the things of this world. They may still attract the flesh. I find that things which I thought would have fallen away by now are still there and I have to judge them, but it is worth it, because “raised with him” brings you into a realm of life which cannot be got into any other way. There are no shortcuts into “raised with him”; there are no shortcuts into companionship with Christ or into the enjoyment of the Christian circle. There is a moral road that we all have to travel and sometimes it takes us a long time to learn that. Sometimes we take diversions off it; we try something else, maybe we go back as the man on the Jericho road (Luke 10: 30) had done. Perhaps he had been in Jerusalem, and maybe he had enjoyed something of what Jerusalem spoke of, but then he was going away from it. If there is anyone like that in this room today, I trust that you will hear the voice of the Lord Jesus saying, ‘I want you to be one of my companions’.
The third “with him” is, “And you, being dead in offences and in the uncircumcision of your flesh he has quickened together with him”. What a wonderful thing it is to be “quickened together with” the Lord Jesus. Quickening is not a doctrine. It does not happen by faith. It is not something about which you can say, ‘I know I am quickened because I have faith for it’. It happens. It is the power of the Holy Spirit of life in you as a believer, giving you an experience of something happening, something welling up in your heart in responsiveness to God. Quickening is real and Paul wrote to these believers “you ... he has quickened together with him”. As we sang:
Quickened with Him in life divine,
Raised with Him from the dead
So companions of the Christ are those who have been “quickened together with him”. “Buried with him” is association with Him in His death, and that does make a difference. The things that I used to like to do are part of what Christ has died to draw me away from, by the blessed attractiveness of who He is as the One who seeks our companionship. But “quickened together with him” means that we are made to live in His life. We enjoy something of that heavenly order of things that we were speaking about in the reading.
And so we come into what Abigail so beautifully speaks of in this verse in Samuel, “the bundle of the living”. That phrase has always laid hold of me. She speaks to David. She is correcting him; she is helping him; she is morally greater than David at this point. David with his men were bent on murder and Abigail turned it all round. What a wonderful person she was! She knew the heart of God better than David did at this point, but she says something to him that is most attractive: “And if a man is risen up to pursue thee and to seek thy life, the soul of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of the living with Jehovah thy God”. It is not just “bound in the bundle of the living” but it is “with Jehovah thy God!” It suggests nearness to Christ; it is nearness to divine Persons. That is what Mr Stoney had in mind when he said that the nearer we get to God, the nearer we get to Christ, and the nearer we get to one another. It is “in the bundle of the living”; it is a most attractive thought. It is like the Christian circle; it is where we can enjoy the companionship that I have been speaking about.
We often enjoy the privilege of being “companions of the Christ” on Lord’s day morning, the nearness and the praise that flows when He sings “in the midst of the assembly”, Heb 2: 12. But like everything else in Christianity, there is a moral basis for our enjoyment of it, and here it is in Hebrews 3: “For we are become companions of the Christ if indeed we hold the beginning of the assurance firm to the end”. Now, “the beginning of the assurance” would be our faith in the risen Christ. That is where we all begin in terms of faith and belief, “the beginning of the assurance”; faith in the risen Man. That is the basis of my faith. Everything else is built on that. Someone once memorably said that faith in the resurrection is the keystone of the arch of Christianity, CAC vol 31 p378. In architecture, you have an arch, and right at the top there is a wedge shaped piece of stone, the keystone, and if you take that out, the whole arch collapses. The risen Christ, faith in His resurrection, is the basis of everything else that we believe in. Here it is: “if indeed we hold the beginning of the assurance firm to the end”. This is conditional; if we do that, then “we are become companions of the Christ”, and we enjoy it. We are in the good of it, we are in the life of it “if indeed we hold the beginning of the assurance firm to the end”. I am tested by that. It needs perseverance. The enemy will seek to attack our faith. He does. He will bring in doubts. We see it happening around us, but what a joy it is to “hold the beginning of the assurance firm to the end” and know the blessedness of the continuing companionship. So in the enjoyment of it, dear brethren, we hold on to what we have; we hold on to our links with the Lord Jesus; we hold on to our links with one another. Remember what Mr Stoney said: the nearer we get to God, the nearer we come to Christ, and the nearer we come to Christ, the nearer we are to one another. That is important because we are not just individual units with our links with Christ; we are brought into this companionship, into the Christian circle that we were speaking of earlier.
Paul’s letter to Philemon is most important and unique. The object of the letter is not teaching; it is just for exhortation in love. Paul was writing to a man whom he loved, and the love and the concern that Paul had for this runaway slave, Onesimus, shines out in it. I did not want to speak about Onesimus; rather I wanted to speak about the bond that there was between Paul and Philemon and how Paul expressed that. He says in verse17, “If therefore thou holdest me to be a partner with thee”. If you go to the footnotes in Hebrews, you will see that there are two Greek words: one means ‘companion’ and the other means ‘partner’. The note ‘q’ in chapter 2: 14 tells us that the word for companion ‘refers always to something outside myself, but which I take, or take a part in’. That is the thought of companionship: the Lord Jesus is there in His supremacy, and we can be companions of His. But the other Greek word means ‘a common equal sharing’ and that is the meaning of partner. So Paul and Philemon had a bond that was partnership; it is another word for fellowship. So Paul wrote, “If therefore thou holdest me to be a partner with thee, receive him as me”. Philemon would answer to this because Paul was appealing to what he knew was there in Philemon. I will not go into all the detail of how Onesimus was a slave of Philemon’s who had perhaps stolen something and run away, and Philemon would have been annoyed about that, and now Paul is sending him back asking Philemon to forgive him. There is a lot in this short letter, which is one of the finest letters that has ever been written. What I wanted to stress is what it meant for Paul and Philemon to be partners. That is what we are. We have a partnership that was forged in the death of Christ. As you are in the fellowship of God’s Son and as I am in it, there is a partnership between us that was forged there in His death and that makes it very, very important. It is the responsible side of what we were speaking about this afternoon as to the Christian circle.
So this partnership has obligations. For instance, this partnership, this fellowship that we enjoy with each other as believers in the Lord Jesus, is something that has to be protected. That is why some Christians have refused directorships or partnerships in companies, because that partnership includes unbelievers, 2 Cor 6: 14-16. The apostle asks the Corinthians how they could be in partnership with an unbeliever. That is why some of our young brethren who started university last week are now taking action. In going to university, they are automatically made members of the students’ union, but these young people choose to opt out of that membership. It involves reproach. One of them found that the secretary was also a Christian, and he could not understand. He said, ‘I am a Christian. I am in it. Why do you not want to be in it?’. It involves reproach. Such matters were gone through in this city forty-two years ago at great cost. You cannot just say, ‘It does not matter, it is not very important. There is nothing much to the students’ union’. These things are important because the dignity and the glory of the partnership that we have together on the basis of the death of the Lord Jesus cannot be broken. Paul makes that clear when he speaks in his letters: “what fellowship of light with darkness?”. Our partnership as believers is important. If you are in it, you cannot also be in others with unbelievers; it cannot be. That is why persons gave up their livelihoods in the last century. They lost their jobs because they understood the meaning of this partnership that Paul wrote to Philemon about. They understood that to be in a trade union or similar association was not compatible with the glory and dignity and the distinctiveness of this partnership that we have together as knowing the Lord Jesus Christ as our Head in heaven and as being part of the Christian circle.
So there are responsibilities in partnership, but then there are privileges too, and that is why I read at the beginning of the epistle. That comes through in the way that Paul writes to “Philemon the beloved and our fellow-workman”. It is a wonderful thing to know that if you have a job to do, you have someone else who will do it with you and you can be fellow-workmen. There are distinguished people who are Fellows of The Royal Society of Edinburgh. That is a partnership that is very distinguished in the world’s view, but “our fellow-workman” is a different kind of link; it is much deeper than that. It is in Christ; this is a partnership in the Lord Jesus. Then Paul wrote about Archippus, “our fellow-soldier, and to the assembly which is in thine house”. It is good to have fellow-believers. We enjoy the company of each other, but it is deeper than that. The fellowship is an expression of what we have as fellows of each other, fellow-workmen, fellow-soldiers, fellow-believers. These things, dear brethren, are important; they are dignified and special, and are to be protected, but they are to be enjoyed, and we can appreciate them in each other’s company.
I read on from verse 4. How Paul rejoiced in Philemon, “hearing of thy love and the faith which thou hast towards the Lord Jesus, and towards all the saints”. Paul is giving Philemon credit for his faith and love towards Christ; I trust that everyone in this room knows something about that. But then there was Philemon’s faith and love “towards all the saints”. That is what binds us together. We come to these fellowship meetings because we get something that we cannot get anywhere else, food that the Lord Jesus brings before us, and we are bound together as a result of His death for us. As a result of our death with Him and being quickened together with Him, we are bound into an organic entity that we appreciate and value, as Philemon clearly did.
Then Paul wrote, “in such sort that thy participation in the faith should become operative”. What does that mean? What is your faith? You say, ‘My faith is in my Saviour. I believe that He died for me’. Yes, that is the foundation of it, but is it “operative”? I ask myself that: does my faith make me do things, because that is what “operative” means? “For the word of God is living and operative, and sharper than any two-edged sword”, Heb 4: 12. So Paul wrote to Philemon here that he was; “always making mention of thee at my prayers … that thy participation in the faith should become operative in the acknowledgment of every good thing which is in us”. I think that when Paul said “us”, he meant all the Christians that Philemon knew.
So if faith is operative towards God, towards the Lord Jesus, it is also operative “in the acknowledgment of every good thing”. Our participation in the faith becomes operative in the recognition of all that is good in our fellow-believers, in those with whom we enjoy these links. We value them and appreciate them, and we see why the Lord Jesus needs us as His companions.
One final impression is that this kind of companionship is eternal. When the Lord Jesus said in John 14, “I go to prepare you a place; and if I go and shall prepare you a place, I am coming again and shall receive you to myself, that where I am ye also may be” (v 2, 3), He was speaking to His disciples, those on earth who were His companions, and the thought of companions of Christ goes into eternity. These links that we have with Him are eternal. These links that we have with each other are eternal. There is no other set of relationships like that. What we have been enjoying today, speaking about from these scriptures, is something that never ends; it goes into eternity.
May we all be blessed and encouraged in thinking about what it is to be companions of Christ; the dignity of it, the blessedness of it, the responsibilities that it brings, but the reward that there is as knowing that nearness to Him, for His Name’s sake!
27th September 2014