John 20: 11-18
2 Corinthians 6: 14, 17, 18
JAB What I have in mind, dear brethren, as a subject of conversation and enquiry is the blessedness of the relationships into which we are brought as Christians, and to think of them, not primarily from our side of the relationship, but from the divine side. I read a very interesting definition of Christianity in Mr Raven‘s ministry recently. He said that Christianity is twofold: first of all it is the complete deliverance of a person from bondage to sin or the world or the law or whatever it might be; and then the establishing of the believer in relationships, and setting of the believer up in the affections proper to these relationships, vol 20 p3. These two things go along together. There is the side of responsibility, what you might call the regulatory side, and I should like to speak about regulation later on if the Lord might help. The way in which I think sometimes leads me to want to start with the responsible side and work up to the purpose of God, but I have been encouraged to begin at the top, as it were, with sonship: “because ye are sons”. Every believer who loves the Lord Jesus has been brought into that relationship by God Himself, and I would like to start there in Galatians. Really it is in response to revelation. God has revealed Himself in this dispensation, as Father, the name of relationship, a wonderful thing, and we will come to that in John 20. Why has He done that? Because He wants persons in relationship to Him. We get a lot of blessing out of it. It is wonderful for us to be in relationship to God. But what I want to enquire about - because I feel the need of this for myself - is what does God feel about these relationships? Why has He done this, that every believer is a son? Because He wants men in relationship to Him.
We have read in Galatians about sonship; we have read in John 20 about a woman who had a very powerful relationship with her Lord. She says, “they have taken away my Lord”, and then He gives her this wonderful message, which we are very familiar with, as to His brethren and “my Father and your Father” and “my God and your God”. I feel limited in thinking about that, but the brethren will help.
And then in Philemon we get a very interesting touch about how this widens out, because the relations that we are brought into are not only with divine Persons, although primarily they are, but then Paul can write to Philemon. It is a very attractive letter. First of all in the section we read Paul talks about God as “my God”. That is a personal relationship with his God, and I desire some help about that. Then he speaks about Philemon’s “love and the faith” which he has "towards the Lord Jesus" and then “towards all the saints”; so as we are in the enjoyment of our relationships with divine Persons, it broadens out in what we sometimes talk about as a horizontal way.
Then 2 Corinthians 6 reminds us that if we are in the enjoyment of relationships with divine Persons, and if we have the affections by the Holy Spirit which are appropriate to these relationships, there are other relations which are not appropriate. I do not want to get to 2 Corinthians 6 too quickly, but I think we take our ground from the glory of the relationships into which we have been brought, and we are reminded of what they are at the end of that section, after that reference to the Old Testament: “I will be to you for a Father, and ye shall be to me for sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty”, Lev 26: 11-12. So Paul, and through Paul, the Lord Jesus, is reminding the Corinthians that there is a relationship they have with God as their Father, and reminding them that there are other relationships, associations, whatever we want to speak of them as, which are not appropriate, and so we keep away from them.
I wondered if we might be expanded in our thoughts, primarily on the view that divine Persons have of the relationships that they have set us up to enjoy, but for their enjoyment. Will that be all right?
JDG I am sure it will be beneficial for us all. I was thinking, as you were speaking, in chapter 3 it says in verse 26: “for ye are all God’s sons by faith in Christ Jesus”. That might be light that comes in, but then this other remark comes in chapter 4: “but when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son … that we might receive sonship”. This is something further than just the light of sonship.
JAB I wondered that. We really begin with the revelation of God. In a sense, revelation precedes all of this. It precedes relationship; it precedes regulation; and response really too is the end in view: “the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, Abba, Father”. But God has come out: “God sent forth his Son …that he might redeem those under law, that we might receive sonship”. That is what God wants. Is that what you have in mind?
JDG Yes, it is. It seems to me that it is the way we come into the enjoyment of the relationship, so it goes on to say, as you were pointing out: “But because ye are sons, God has sent out the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, Abba, Father”. Divine Persons could never be satisfied short of that.
JAB I am glad of what you say. It opens it up. Why has God done this? He has done it because He wants men in relationship to Him. That is why Jesus came here, to redeem those who were held in bondage under the principles of the world. He cannot have a relationship with people who are held in bondage under the principles of the world. That comes home to me, too, in relation to how I am in my links with God. This is why He has done it.
JDG So sending “forth his Son, come of woman, come under law” to redeem us clears the whole ground morally with a view to God’s heart being satisfied.
JAB Exactly. As I said earlier, I often think of my blessings as a son of God and they are very real, and they are very wonderful, and they are to be enjoyed. But primarily God has brought us into relationship with Himself so that He might have His heart satisfied with the response of sons.
JTB The Father was so pleased with the way the Lord Jesus fulfilled every relationship of sonship that He desires others to be like Him to share that place, do you think?
JAB I am glad you have brought that in because we see this in the Lord Jesus. Say a bit more about what you mean by that. All that God had in that blessed One in relationship to Him; He receives from those made like Him brought into the same relationship, always guarding the uniqueness of the Lord Jesus. Is that what you have in mind?
JTB Yes, “when the fulness of the time was come”: God looked down through the dispensations, did He not, to this ultimate moment when the Lord Jesus was begotten, and then fulfilling in every detail what the Son should be in every relationship and every feature of His manhood, do you think?
JAB So in the Old Testament God desired this, did He not? Israel came into it to an extent but could never come into the fulness of God’s thoughts that He might have men in relationship to Him. The priestly system was a system of barriers. The outer court, the inner court, the curtain, the veil, the Old Testament system has much to teach us, but it was a system of barriers, and now the veil of the temple is rent with the death of Christ, and God has come out because He wants men in that relationship. That is very fine.
TWL Is that seen in that “God has sent out the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, Abba, Father”? That is for the Father’s heart.
JAB That is the impression I have of it. I am glad of what you say because God has done this, “sent forth his Son”, that persons might receive sonship and then “because ye are sons”. Why has God sent out the Spirit of his Son into our hearts? Because He desires an answer. He is looking for that. He is looking for an answer. As far as I am concerned, this is for me. He is looking for more of an answer as a result of our conversation today, that we might see what God desires. He has given us the Spirit. The term “Abba, Father” is a term of affection, and I was struck by what Mr Raven said, that He brings us into relationships with Him, and He gives us the affections which are appropriate to these relationships. I think that is tremendous.
TWL Yes, it is, because it is not just ‘the Spirit into our hearts’, but it is “the Spirit of his Son into our hearts” in relation to what our brother said about what the Father saw in Christ that was so pleasing to Himself. Then it is the Spirit of that Man that brings in accord with us and that answers “Abba, Father”. It is the relationship at the level of what Christ is to God.
JAB It is. I am glad of what you say. The parallel passage in Romans 8 says, “for as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God”, v 14. Mr James Taylor, in a very memorable remark, speaks of the Spirit of God opening the door that is leading us into eternity, vol 33 p29. We are not talking about relationships here for time only, although they are to be enjoyed in time. What we are talking about are eternal relationships with God. That is tremendous, that we will know God in eternity in the way we know Him now - through this relationship, sonship, through our relationship with the Lord Jesus, through our relationship with the Holy Spirit; these relations define us as believers in time and eternity. And so Paul says, in Romans also, “ye have received a spirit of adoption whereby we cry, Abba, Father“, chap 8: 15.
NJH This is the only place that the Spirit could cry, “Abba, Father”. Is that right?
JAB Say more about what you have in mind.
NJH It is only those that are in relationship.
JAB Yes. I feel the importance of that. The Holy Spirit cannot be limited in His work and neither can God, for He is God, but the way God operates is in conditions that are brought into consonance with His heart of love. Is that right? Is that what you have in mind?
NJH Sonship is for God, and here it is really for the Spirit. God gives the Spirit an area, that is those in sonship, whereby He can cry, “Abba, Father”.
JAB So that blessed name is the name of relationship, is it not? God is known by many names and many titles, but "Father" brings us into the nearest place of relationship. Our relationships with divine Persons are measured by God’s thoughts for us; not by our thoughts about these relationships, but by His thoughts.
GAB Do we see it illustrated in the well-known passage in Luke 15? The younger son was prepared to accept a relationship as a hired servant, rather similar to the bondman in the beginning of this chapter, but the father’s thoughts were far greater and he says, ’The best robe is all that is going to be good enough for my house’.
JAB That is fine. When we use that scripture in the gospel, which we often do, we are thinking of the younger son and the journey that he travels, but we sometimes do think of the father’s thoughts in Luke 15; how much he missed that relationship with the son who was no longer there. He had gone away and now he comes back, and it is the father’s delight that comes before us in what he provides, is it not? It is the expression of what is in the father’s heart, in terms of the parable, the resumption of the relationship on a new basis of repentance and being brought right in.
GAB Would it be right to say too that the best robe had been there all the time? The father had no other thoughts for his son.
JAB That is fine.
WMP Can I just ask about the reference to “the fulness of the time”, and your reference to the Old Testament? We had Enoch who walked with God, and Abraham, a friend of God. Moses saw the divine glory from behind and so on; so what is it that marks this relationship out so distinctively?
JAB I think it is really the incoming of the Lord Jesus, because it is in the death of the Lord Jesus that we can enter into these relationships into which God would bring us. The Lord’s death is the foundation for them. God desires to bring us into nearness. Israel could function, and no doubt God got great pleasure in much that proceeded in the Old Testament, but there was almost always a distance. But when we come near - in Christianity we come near on the basis that on the death of Jesus the veil was rent - the way in to the very heart of God is opened up and relationship with Him can be on that basis, and it will be for all eternity. Is that in line with what you were thinking?
WMP Yes, so what we have in the relationship of sonship is a family relationship. That must involve that intimacy that you have spoken about, and also everything is established on the basis of righteousness, is it not?
JAB Certainly, and we see that in the death of the Lord Jesus. It must be the case that these relationships that we enjoy with the Father and with the Lord Jesus and with the Holy Spirit are all on the basis of righteousness that has been established there. In relation to what you have just said, I was thinking of that verse in John 17, “And I have made known to them thy name,” - that is the name of Father - “and will make it known; that the love with which thou hast loved me may be in them and I in them”, v 26. To me that just encapsulates the matter.
RG Do you think in the light of what you are saying that verse 25 of Galatians 3 is important: “faith having come“. We might have said faith existed in the Old Testament, and it did, but would this underline the special character of what was brought in, really an environment in which these thoughts of God could be developed?
JAB That is fine. I would be glad if you could say more about that: “faith having come”. Do you mean we are ushered into a new dispensation? Everything is on a new basis.
RG Yes, there is a thought in the world and in Christendom that Christianity sprang out of Judaism, but the truth is that God brought in something entirely new. As it says later, “the fulness of the time”: that is the time we are in, in which these things can blossom, do you think?
JAB Yes. We speak about the dispensation of faith, and we speak about grace marking it, and these things are true, but to me this dispensation is marked by persons in relationship, in nearness to God. I have been thinking of what defines us. What makes you who you are? It is not your natural history; it is not your forebears; it is not exactly what you have done; it is your relationship with God. I feel the need to grasp that, that God desires to bring us nearer to Him because what we learn of Him now and what we enjoy and what He enjoys is eternal. It will not change.
RG Do you think that emphasises the importance of this dispensation? We will not develop these relationships in eternity. We will enjoy them, but we will not develop any further in them. God is doing something now in this time, something He has not done before, nor will do again, and we then should seize this opportunity.
JAB That is just what is in my heart, that we need to see the greatness of what God has in mind for the satisfaction of His heart. We will come into blessing, but it is for the satisfaction of His heart.
NJH Is it good to be reminded that Christ came into the relationship of sonship at birth? I think the whole thing is protected. My mind went to Luke where it speaks of Joseph being his “supposed” father (Luke 3: 23), but it is “come of woman” here. Speaking simply and reverently, He only had one Father. We have had fathers according to flesh; we have had that. We are taken up in Christianity on the principle of adoption; but with Christ there is uniqueness in how He stood in that blessed humanity in relation to His Father.
JAB That is good. We had that on Lord’s day. We began to read Luke’s gospel: “He shall be great, and shall be called Son of the Highest”, chap 1: 32. The Lord came into that relationship. How perfectly He fulfils it!
JDG I was going to say what our brother said, that He was in sonship from His birth: “this day have I begotten thee” (Heb 1: 5), but it was the sending forth of the Son from the point of view: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I have found my delight”, Matt 3: 17.
JAB That is fine. As He entered into His pathway of service, you mean, and coming under the public eye in that way?
JDG And it was in view of securing others like Him. That was the divine objective.
JAB I have occasionally misquoted what the Father said at the Jordan. He did not say ‘in whom I have found all my delight’ (which is in Psalm 16: 3, of course). So what God had in mind, what the Father had in mind there, was His beloved Son coming up to the entire satisfaction of the Father’s heart, even before He had entered on public testimony, yet there were going to be others like Him.
DCB We began this week considering the reference, “thou canst be hindered in no thought of thine”, Job 42: 2. This is God’s thought, and a thought which is secured and is secured eternally, God having secured it already in Christ.
JAB I am glad of what you say. It opens up the scantiness of my own thoughts about it, about what God has secured in Christ. From His point of view it does not depend on us. God has found what He wants in His beloved Son, but He is also finding what He wants in those who have been made like Him. What I would like as a result of our enquiry today is for everyone in this room to realise that more, that this is what God desires. He wants us to know Him better. He wants us nearer to Him because this is the time when these relationships with divine Persons are developed, and we shall enjoy them eternally.
DCB This word “because” is very important: “But because ye are sons”. He is not raising any question at all about that. Even to the Galatians in the condition that they were in, He is not asking that question. He is saying, ’That is what you are’, and then, because of that, He is expecting that there should be the behaviour that is appropriate to sons.
JAB Well, we will maybe come to that in the address because as we come into relationship with God, we come into a sphere of regulation. We know that, in our experience, we come into the blessedness of what we are speaking about through what we call the kingdom, but God starts at the highest point. God starts with sonship.
DJH It is a great relationship to enjoy. What I have been impressed with in what is being said is the wonder of it, that they are eternal relationships. There will be no change in the relationship. There will be a change in the condition, and we will be more suited to the relationship because we shall be like Him, but the relationship remains.
JAB That is the impression I have. I have been impressed with the blessedness of it, but the challenge too. There is the challenge as to responsibility and we will come later this afternoon, if the Lord helps, to what is suitable for this on the grounds of moral responsibility. But then too, with the Holy Spirit’s help, deepening in our appreciation of what you have said, that the relationships we are brought into and enjoy now for God’s pleasure are eternal and they define who we are. People go round trying to define themselves in relation to their careers, or the amount of wealth they have, or how brilliant they are. None of that will subsist. The only thing that will subsist is our relationship with divine Persons. Is that right?
DJH Yes. I am much impressed with what you drew attention to: “because ye are sons”. It is not something that we work up to from the responsible side. The responsible side has to be met but “because ye are sons” it can be filled out.
JAB So the Holy Spirit would say this to everybody in this room who is a believer in the Lord Jesus: you are a son of God. You are in that relationship. You may not have thought about it much; you may not be in the enjoyment of it; but that is what you are if you have faith in Christ. He would attract us into the blessed enjoyment because that is how God gets His portion.
AMB Do you have anything to say about these words that are the result of the Spirit’s prompting in our hearts, “Abba, Father”?
JAB The only thought I had is that, to go back to what impressed me in Mr Raven’s statement, we are brought into new relationships and given the affections that are appropriate to these relationships. I think the term “Abba, Father” is a term of great affection. That is the only impression I had of it, but you could say more.
AMB It is the expression that the Lord Himself used to the Father, expressing the intensity of affection and intimacy of relationship, but then, by the Spirit, the believer can take these same words on his or her lips. It can only be by the activity of a divine Person, the Holy Spirit, in our hearts, but it is a tremendous matter, and that is what God has in mind, that there should be an intensity of expression of affection and intimacy towards Him.
JAB I think what you have brought out is very fine. So the relationship God has with His beloved Son is extended. We always, of course, in our minds, guard the uniqueness of Jesus, but we do not need to keep on saying that in a company like this. He is distinct and unique as God in His own Person, but nevertheless what you say is true, that we can take on our lips, with the Holy Spirit‘s help, the same words that Jesus did in relation to His Father. It is a wonderful thing.
Maybe that would take us on to John 20, because the Lord Himself discloses this to a woman who loved Him. This woman had been delivered from the bondage to sin that she had been under. Mary had had seven demons (Luke 8: 2), and the Lord had brought her out of that bondage and now she is there in the purity and intensity of her affection for a dead Saviour. In verse 2 she says to the disciples, “They have taken away the Lord”, but in verse 13 where we read, “She says to them, Because they have taken away my Lord”. This does come down to what is personal. It is enjoyed collectively, and sonship is enjoyed collectively as well as being an individual relationship with the Father, but here is one woman saying, “they have taken away my Lord”. Her affection for Him was such that she was drawn into nearness to Him, and she is given this wonderful message, which really is all about relationships. I was just impressed by the truth that she was given. Mr Stoney said a remarkable thing about it; he said that the truth that she was given was the kernel of the epistle to the Ephesians, vol 4 p173. The whole of the epistle to the Ephesians, at least the first three chapters, Mr Stoney suggests, is really Paul bringing out the meaning that the Lord Jesus had in His mind here, and it was given to this woman who loved Jesus. That was the basis of her relationship.
DCB Could you say why this is as the Lord is in resurrection?
JAB Well, I think that is important to bring out. It is not on the previous basis. It is on a new basis and it comes back to what we said earlier about the death of the Lord Jesus. God has been revealed in the death of Jesus, the veil rent, our way in, but the resurrection of the Lord Jesus is the basis of our relationship with Him. It is really a heavenly Man, not part of this world at all. Although He was still in this scene, and He would remain in it for a period of time before He ascended, yet He was in a completely distinct and different condition.
DCB What you say brings to mind that His attitude is “I ascend”; it is a Person in that attitude that would introduce us into the actuality and the enjoyment of these relationships.
JAB That is what I had in mind, and I am glad of what you have brought out; so the Lord is looking to His ascension: “I have not yet ascended to my Father”. Of course, much could be said about these verses; much has been said. But what interested me was that Mary is an example of what we are talking about. She did not understand much, but what she had was a love for someone she called “my Lord”. That was the relationship in affection, and then everything else came. The intelligence was granted to her in order to carry this precious message, but what she had was affection.
JTB The Lord Jesus must also be the centre of our enjoyment of sonship, do you think? She says here that “she had seen the Lord,” - that was the first thing she said - “and that he had said these things to her”. Pre-eminently in her heart was the fact she had seen the Lord. That really is the blessed basis on which our enjoyment of sonship is reached and enjoyed.
JAB I wondered that. It is really in association with a Man who is now in heaven, the blessedness of that. “She had seen the Lord”. Our relationship is with that blessed One, where He is now. You cannot enjoy relationship at a distance. In a way you can know it, you can know that it is true at a distance, but you cannot really enjoy it at a distance. This involves being brought near to the blessed One where He is now. Is that what you have in mind?
JTB “Having marked us out beforehand for adoption through Jesus Christ to himself”, Eph 1: 5.
JAB Very good. I am glad of what you say.
NJH It says in verse 16, “She … says to him in Hebrew”. Why is that?
JAB Have you got a thought about it?
NJH Is it becoming more intense with her? It is, “Rabboni, which means Teacher”. What do you think?
JAB Are you free to talk about the Lord Jesus as “my Lord” and about God as “my God”? I think we should be. That personal dimension to the relationship must underpin it. I know that much of it is enjoyed collectively, and I am not setting that aside at all in what I say. She goes to the disciples, and I am sure she stayed with them. I am sure someone who was brought into this nearness to the Lord Jesus did not then go away. I cannot say it definitively but I have the feeling that she was there in the upper room. But “my Lord”, that was the axis of the relationship that she had, and she held to that and everything else was added to that, “Rabboni”.
JDG Christianity hangs on the personal relationship with the Lord Jesus, my Lord, my Saviour.
JAB Yes it does, and would you say it hangs on our personal relationships with each divine Person? I want to make clear that in personal prayer I would not address God the Father as ‘my Father’. That is distinctive to Christ. But in thinking about all that God has done, and how He has come out, and in thinking of the Holy Spirit, there is a personal aspect to these relationships with divine Persons that must underpin everything else. Is that right?
JDG Well, I have been thinking about it as you have been speaking of it. I do not think I have ever addressed the Father as ‘my Father’. I think that is distinctive to Christ; He does not say ‘our Father’, but “your father”. But I think ’my God’ can be addressed, because it is a personal matter between the Creator and the creature.
JAB Yes, we have that liberty in personal prayer. This is a wonderful passage in John 20, the way in which Mary moves from saying “the Lord” to “my Lord”. Now, everyone here would talk about the Lord Jesus, but is He Jesus my Lord? Is Jesus your Lord? That is what I really have in mind.
RG Do you think the fact it was twice recorded that she was weeping bears on this? Does it give some indication of the kind of ground, for want of a better word, into which the Lord would plant these thoughts that He does bring in? I am thinking of the fact that so many of the brethren are under pressure in their health and for other reasons, but we will not be under pressure in heaven, and it prepares the ground for these revelations which are of heaven, do you think?
JAB I do. I could not add to what you say, but I think it is very important to see that. Mary had to go through a transition, if I might call it that, in her relationship with the Lord Jesus. Although she had known Him after the flesh and she wants to resume that, He says, "Touch me not". But He gives her the basis of the new relationship with Him, and that is key to understanding the basis of our relationship with the Lord, but it all hinges on affection, personal affection, for this blessed One.
DS Do we understand these relationships you are speaking of by recognising the Lord as our Teacher?
JAB What do you have in mind?
DS I think you could help us as to it. You were speaking as to the personal relationships we have with each divine Person, the Lord, and the Spirit, and the Father. I just wondered if Mary as speaking to the Lord as Teacher here is recognising One who is able to open up to her in a new relationship that which she is going to enjoy. The Lord is now out of death. As you say, she has recognised Him as “my Lord” and now she is saying ‘my Teacher’. Is there something there that the Lord is able to open up to us, something of the glory of relationships that He enjoys that we can enjoy?
JAB I think that is good. I am glad of what you say because really if there is love for the Lord Jesus, then a soul that has affection for Christ is teachable. As you were speaking, I thought of Mary of Bethany, the other Mary, who was not here. It has been said in ministry that she understood that the Lord would rise. As she had sat at His feet and listened to His words, she knew Him as her Teacher, Luke 10: 39. She had absorbed something from Christ that maybe Mary of Magdala had not. But I do not like to criticise Mary of Magdala at all because she is here in affection, and she gets the most wonderful message that has ever been given to anyone, even the apostle Paul or any of the other apostles. This is the most wonderful message that was ever given to anyone, and she is teachable because she is a lover of Christ.
PAG I have been thinking of the time coming when every tongue will "confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to God the Father’s glory", Phil 2: 11. Your exercise is about what is for the heart of divine Persons now. Is there something special that persons are confessing that Jesus Christ is Lord, not because they are obliged to, but because they want to, and that is what marks this dispensation.
JAB Exactly. I think that is very important. Mary of Magdala had come under the subduing power of the love of Jesus and it shows, and it is to show with us too. That is a challenge to me even as I say it. But I think what you say is right. There is something about what happens in this section; I am thinking about what happens to Mary. There is tremendous depth and teaching in the words the Lord Jesus uses. But what happens to Mary here? To me she is an epitome of someone who is brought nearer to Christ, and her understanding and her appreciation expands in that way, and the result would be what you say.
Maybe we could go to Philemon because our brother was referring to the way in which Paul speaks of his God. I do not want to make too much of it, but Paul does use this term quite often in his letters. He speaks about God Himself as “my God”. I know there is a particular aspect to the letter to Philemon. Paul is adjusting, and he is adjusting in love. It is one of the most powerful and effective letters that has ever been written, this short letter, because Philemon got the benefit of it. It is tremendous the skill Paul uses in speaking to Philemon. There is a relationship between Paul and Philemon. You can see it. First of all Paul speaks about his God, and I just wondered if that would affect us and cause us to see that God wants us in personal relationship to Him in this way. Would that be all right to say that?
JDG I am sure that is right. Every person has a relationship with God, initially as Creator, but then He becomes a Saviour God, so that you have a relationship with Him to all eternity.
JAB And that relationship, would you say, colours and controls our relations with one another? Paul is writing to Philemon and he credits Philemon with his love and the faith which he has towards the Lord Jesus. That is Philemon’s relationship with the Lord Jesus, “and towards all the saints“, and I just thought that we see there the principle of relationship widening out towards all the saints in an instructive way.
JDG He addresses more than Philemon in this epistle. It has been pointed out, that it does not include the thought of mercy because of the fact there are others here related to the assembly. It is nearly an assembly epistle.
JAB “The assembly which is in thine house”; so, we remember it is addressed to several persons, Philemon and Apphia, whether that was Philemon’s wife or not, we do not know, but it is addressed to more than Philemon. That is good. We know each other quite well and we develop relationships with each other. Why do I have a relationship with you? It is because of our relationships with divine Persons. It works out horizontally, but it has its source in the Lord Jesus and in His death.
JSp I was thinking of the scripture in Corinthians, “But if any one love God, he is known of him“, 1 Cor 8: 3. Would that be the basis of it?
JAB That is good. Are you referring to the personal dimension of the relationship with God? “He is known of him“. Say more about that, please.
JSp Well, God knows every one, of course, as His creature, but there is a special bond that is formed, and God works through that and it spreads to all the brethren.
JAB I think that is good. ”But if anyone love God, he is known of him“. That comes as a challenge to me. How much do I actually love God? It is possible to know God without being in the freshness of affection. We all know that. But I think “if anyone love God, he is known of him” implies something that is active and is really flowing in response Godward. Is that what you have in mind?
JTB Just for clarity, in the service of God, it would be appropriate to refer to ‘our God’, do you think?
JAB Yes, I am glad you make that clear. In what I have said about our personal relationships with God, I am thinking of individual prayer and speaking to other individuals about God. If I was speaking to someone about my relationship with God, I would be free to say He is my God. I had an Israeli man who worked for me, and it was very interesting working with a Jew. He had no conception of God, no belief, but what he said interested me. He could see that I had a relationship with God, and he was interested in that and he wanted to know more about it. That is more the context in which I am speaking now.
JTB I thought perhaps the end of Philippians illustrated the point. In chapter 4 verse 19 Paul says, “But my God shall abundantly supply all your need according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus”, but in the next verse, he says, “But to our God and Father be glory to the ages of ages“. When the ascription of glory is concerned, it is “our God”, do you think?
JAB I think that is helpful and I am glad you have brought that in for clarity. In speaking of God, he would speak of “my God”, but in addressing Him in worship, it must be “our God”. That is good.
DCB I was thinking of Daniel, where Darius can say, “Thy God whom thou servest continually, he will save thee”, Dan 6: 16. He knew.- there was a testimony - that Daniel had a relationship with God, and really that would be something that would flow out from what you have said.
JAB That helps to bring out what I had in mind. If someone has a relationship with God, that is what defines them. Daniel was defined as a man who prayed three times a day with his windows towards Jerusalem. Daniel was many other things. He was the prime minister in a powerful empire, but what defined him in the eyes of heaven, and also in the eyes of some of those with whom he had to do, was his relationship with God. I think that is a very important thing that we need to think about more.
DCB I was thinking too that Paul himself could speak of “the God, whose I am and whom I serve“, Acts 27: 23.
JAB I wondered if we might see that what we are speaking about now, which is not at such a high level as what we were speaking about in Galatians, is to take its cue, as it were, from the fact that I am one of God’s sons. I remember Paul Martin telling me about a brother he visited in India for the first time, and he spoke to him for an hour, and all the brother spoke about was the blessedness that he was one of God’s sons. In the fifteen million people in Mumbai, that brother was just full of wonder that he had that relationship with God, and I think that is important for us to think about.
PAG If we do desire to have our part in the service of praise, is what you are saying as to "my God" essential? I cannot say ‘our God’ if I cannot say ‘my God’.
JAB That is what I had in mind. I am glad of what you say. The personal relationship underpins everything else, and the enjoyment of it. God desires men in nearness to Him. Now, that very quickly introduces us into what is collective, but it is based on that personal relationship that we have with One who is our God and Father.
NMcK Regarding the matter of sonship, I have been thinking how Solomon sets the matter out. He says, “I was a son unto my father“, Prov 4: 3. He was one who knew how to fill out that relationship. It maybe links on more with what you were reading in Corinthians, but he filled out that relationship under his father, and see what gain there was: he became like him and grew in wisdom and in all that David was marked by in the substance that he had.
JAB That is very helpful, because it fills out what I had rather sketchily in my mind, that all of the relationships that we enter into are to be marked in their dignity and their character with our relationship as sons of God. Is that what you have in mind? The relationship I have with you is imbued with that dignity. We might or we might not have similar tastes naturally or similar interests, but as enjoying the blessedness of what we were speaking about in the earlier part of the reading, we are to be encouraged to see that that really imbues everything.
That is what I had in mind in turning to 2 Corinthians 6, just before we close. We often think of this scripture in terms of the need for separation, and that is absolutely right. “What participation is there between righteousness and lawlessness? or what fellowship of light with darkness?” Relationships bring us into fellowship with one another, but I was thinking of the way in which we approach these things. We do things because we see the rightness of them, and we do not do things because we see their incompatibility with the relationships we enjoy with divine Persons. Would it be right to say that?
JDG I think everything springs from my love for my Lord and my God.
JAB I was affected by the way in which, at the end of this section, Paul brings in this quotation from the Old Testament, which is really about relationship, is it not? It does not rise to the height of what we have been speaking about. “Sons and daughters” is not exactly sonship, but nevertheless, it shows us that, even in the Old Testament time, God desired His people in relationship with Him, and that gets spoiled when sin comes in.
TWL Is there a link between what you are bringing in now and the end of John’s first epistle when he says, “And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us an understanding that we should know him that is true; and we are in him that is true, in his Son Jesus Christ”, chap 5: 20? Is that why we do what we do?
JAB Exactly. I think it is important to understand that Christianity is not, emphatically not, a system of rules and regulations. I was speaking to a sister recently who said that when she was young she thought that being a good Christian was doing what you were told you could do and not doing all the things you were told you could not do. That is not what Christianity is at all! It springs from love for God, and then, as we enter into the sensitivity of that relationship with divine Persons, it becomes clear what we are able to do and what we just do not want to touch.
TWL That is what I wondered, whether that is the “understanding”, because the understanding “that the son of God has come, and has given us an understanding” is the understanding of the relationships between Christ and the Father. It is the understanding of that, and what is appropriate to it, and what part of that is being “in him”. Is that right?
JAB Very good. I am glad of what you say, and the scripture you bring in is good. In looking at the scripture in 2 Corinthians, we would remember the relationship we have with the Lord Jesus as the Head of the assembly. We have not spoken about that relationship, but it is an important one too and, as a member of His body, there are things which I do not want to go anywhere near, and that is what should govern us. The blessedness and the dignity and the glory of what we are brought into now and what we shall enjoy eternally makes these things so simple.
TCM In Galatians we touched on “that we might receive sonship”, but here we have at the end of verse 17, “and I will receive you”. Do you think that is really the end in view from God’s side, that He may receive us? Galatians is like the status that is put upon us, but this involves state.
JAB That is very good. I am glad of what you are emphasising: “and I will receive you”. God wants man in nearness to Him. He did at the very beginning in the garden when He set man up in relationship, and sin came in and spoiled it. You might say, sin brought disaster for man, but what did it do for God? It spoiled the enjoyment of the relationship that He wanted to have with man in innocence. You could say much about that, but I think what you have said as to “I will receive you”, that is, God’s feelings coming out there, is fine.
RG What follows immediately on is, “and I will be to you for a Father”. He does not say, ‘I am your Father’ - that is true - but “I will be to you for a Father”.
JAB What distinction do you make there?
RG I am enquiring as to whether that would involve instruction. It is a living, operating system: “I will be to you”, and, as we recognise the Father’s hand even in our circumstances and in the service too, it would strengthen the relationship we have, do you think?
JAB That is fine. I had not thought of that. “I will be to you for a Father”. The Father is towards us in the operation and grace of His love, is He not? It is an operative thing. What we are speaking about in terms of relationships, they operate, they are living. They are living in the power of the Holy Spirit and they are living in the power of the love of God, the love of the Father, and that operation comes out in what you have said: “I will be to you for a Father”. He will do the things that a Father would do.
JSp Would that be seen in John’s epistle: “See what love the Father has given to us, that we should be called the children of God“. And then he goes on to say, “For this reason the world knows us not, because it knew him not“, 1 John 3: 1. That should convey a very clear line of demarcation from that very exalted aspect.
JAB The world cannot even begin to enter into what we have been speaking about and, as in the enjoyment of this; we just keep ourselves in the love of God. I think what you say is very good.
NJH In Genesis 15 it was when Abraham felt the need of sonship that the Almighty comes in. It is interesting it is the Lord Almighty who says, “I will be to you for a Father” as if it is for the protection, the eventual protection, of what true sonship is as coming out in Isaac and so on.
JAB I think we come to that, that as we are held in the closeness of these blessed relationships, we are in a place of protection. There is the darkness: “what fellowship of light with darkness? and what consent of Christ with Beliar?”. We are held in an area of tremendous protection really in the love of God, are we not?
GAB In that connection, verse 17 is “Wherefore come out from the midst of them, and be separated”. That exhortation is between the reference to God being their God and His being to them for a Father. That keeps us clear of legality, does it not? It is a matter of affection that prompts these movements in separation.
JAB It must be so, and we have found in our experience that that is the only thing that works: the love of God, nearness to Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit and our relationships with Him. These are the things that give us the strength for what you are speaking about. It is not command; it is the power of attraction in these blessed divine Persons, and the relationships to them into which we have been drawn.
8th January 2011