Reading: Eph. 4:10; 1:22, 23; 4:7,13.
And he said unto them, Go and say to that fox, Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures to-day and to-morrow, and the third day I am perfected.” (Luke 13:32)
“For it became him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the author of their salvation perfect through sufferings.” (Heb. 2:10)
“And having been made perfect, he became unto all them that obey him the author of eternal salvation.” (Heb. 5:9)
Perhaps it is not necessary to say by way of safeguarding, that we do not think that that perfecting work of the Lord Jesus implies that He was morally imperfect, that there was any lack in Him so far as absolute sinlessness was concerned. The perfecting was of another kind, not to make Him holier than He was. The word is used many times and is sometimes in the Revised Version translated into two words, ‘full grown’. Look at a baby, a perfect baby. If it is a boy, normally it will grow up until it reaches full manhood. And in the course of things it does not necessarily have to be morally changed to reach full manhood. You do not have to change its nature in order for it to come to full stature. But when it has fully grown you say that it is perfected in that sense, as a human being, as a body, as an individual. It is in that sense that this word is used in the New Testament. A full grown man; sometimes in the Authorized Version that word is used for ‘perfected’. It means having reached full stature. The Lord Jesus was being developed unto a full stature through His sufferings; He was capable of enlargement through discipline; not necessarily the change of His nature—He was already perfect—but enlargement.
My point is this, that in this purpose of God that Christ should fill all things, He has completed His work in Christ and has the perfected model before Him. He always had in His eye that perfect model. From before times eternal He had that perfect model in His Son. To that model, that standard, that representation, He was going to conform everything. We were foreordained, says Paul to be conformed to the image of his Son (Rom. 8:29). Now God has actually in His presence, before Him, the perfected model to which He is working and all His activities are dictated by that model. And you and I and all believers are going to be dealt with by God, just in accordance with the measure of Christ that is possible in us.
The directive and permissive will of God
Now that may sound a very abstract statement, but I want it to be made very practical because I see in it a tremendous point that is helpful and instructive. We sometimes speak of the two kinds of divine will, the directive will of God and the permissive will of God. By the directive will of God, we mean God’s first full will, that if God just had His full way He would take a certain course, He would do a certain thing. If He could do just exactly as He would, that would be the course He would take, the way in which He would deal with us.
But there is the permissive will of God which is secondary. It may come in line with the directive will or it may not—that depends upon us. Many things in our own lives are not God’s first full will for us, but they are His permissive will, He allows them. Why does He allow them? Because at present, at any rate, He cannot have His full directive will. In other words He cannot have the full measure of Christ that He wants. So He has to accept what measure He can get and govern life accordingly.
This explains a lot of things and this is the reason why you and I are not allowed to lay down a standard for any other person’s life. We have an idea of what the Lord wants, we have seen it, it has come home to us, and then we make that the standard for every other life. And if they do not come up to it, they are a bit out where we are concerned, they are not counted in. If they take another way from the way we take, while they are children of God, we either lose interest in them or think they are entirely wrong. We are not allowed to do that. They may be in the way of the permissive will of God, and the Lord is going to get something, because the Lord is an economist. The Lord will get what He can. It would be a poor look out for all of us if the Lord took the attitude, “If I cannot get all I went, I will get nothing!” Where should we be? If I cannot have all where you are concerned, I will not have anything at all. Does He not rather take the other attitude? “Well, I would like to have all, I would like to have a great deal more, but if it is only a small measure of Christ, let me have that, I am after that!” That is the Lord’s way.
The measure of Christ the governing factor
Now that explains why some people can and other people cannot. An old phrase has been used: “Others can, you cannot.” The Lord sees that in some cases, or for the time being in some cases, He can only have a certain measure, and therefore He allows in such lives many things that are not at all according to His full thought. How am I to explain this? I do not know what is the best illustration. If I may speak out of my own experience, there was a time when I was quite sure—and I do not know that I have ever had reason yet to challenge my mind about this—that I was right in going into denominational ministry, being a minister in a denomination. I believe the Lord led me into that at the time. While I was there, I was in the Lord’s will. And yet the day came, after years, when the Lord revealed to me the true nature of the Church as a heavenly thing, not of this earth at all. The true nature of ministry is a spiritual thing and not an ecclesiastical thing at all; to be a witness to Him. The result of this revelation and the experience through which the Lord led me was that I had to quit denominational ministry and take other ground altogether, clear of all that sort of thing. The fuller revelation put the former thing in the wrong. Now you say here is a contradiction. If this is right, that was wrong; if you were right then, you are wrong now; those two things contradict one another. Not at all. There is the permissive and the directive, the lesser and the greater. For that time the Lord was permitting something. It was not His full thought. He was getting a measure of Christ and through those years was so disciplining me as to make it possible to get a very much bigger measure presently. There came a crisis; it depended on how I acted in that crisis whether I was going all my days to give Him the result of the permissive, or whether He was going to get more of the directive. May I say therefore today that every man who goes into denominational ministry is wrong? I say, it may be the permissive will of God, and there is a measure of Christ possible. If such ministers come to a crisis, then that crisis carries with it the issue of whether the Lord is going to have a very great deal more of Christ or whether they are going to stay with just that smaller measure than He would have. But there it is, and that is only one illustration.
Why does the Lord permit this? Why does the Lord allow certain people, His own children, to do this, that and the other? He cannot do any more at present, and He is going to get just what He can get by His permissive will. But if those people should ever in dissatisfaction come to the place where they say: “Lord, I realize that you are not getting all you should have, I want you to have more, deal with me in the way in which you will have a larger measure of Christ…,” a great deal that has been permitted will be permitted no longer. “Others can; you cannot.” That is, if the Lord is going to have all that He is after, you cannot do what a lot of other Christians can. It depends entirely upon this measure of Christ that the Lord is after. Everything is governed by this: The measure of Christ.
We should always value even a small measure in a great many things which are not the Lord’s full will in a life. Let us try and cherish the small measure of Christ in everyone and be patient toward it and not judge and say: “All those other things, put them out of court; it is all right, but I have no interest in them.” Now, is there a small measure of Christ? You never know when such a person will come to a desperate crisis over his own spiritual life and move into something very much greater.
God has His Christ perfect in view and He is working not according to a small Christ, an imperfect Christ; He is working to a whole perfected model, to conform to it. That is what He is after, that is His appeal. His appeal is to everyone: “Let us go on, let us go on unto perfection” (Heb. 6:1; A.V.); “Let us go on unto full growth” (R.V.). The crisis is this: Are you prepared for the Lord to come in and take you on to the basis of His directive will and get you off the basis of His permissive will? Are you prepared for that? On the basis of the directive will, others may, you may not; what others can do, you cannot; you are on another basis. But, do not despise others and do not think too much of yourself.
This question of the measure of Christ determines many things. The Lord deals with our old life so severely and drastically in His pruning, when His full thought is bound up with that life. If that life is directed to God’s fuller thought, has come there, then God uses His knife terribly in that life to prune, cut off, shear away, all that is not Christ, so that the growth shall be all Christ, the fruit shall be all Christ. It is tremendous—I was going to say exacting, and in a sense it is. The Lord keeps us on a very short leash when He has the fullness of Christ in view in our lives. We do not get away with very much. A lot of Christians get away with a lot of things. They can do these things, the Lord does not seem to have a controversy with them at all. They do not seem to come up against it at all. How much is the measure of Christ? That decides everything.
You cannot fail to see in Paul that the Lord’s handling of him was a strong handling. He regarded himself as having been apprehended, laid hold on, by Christ Jesus. Here is a man whose whole being is on stretch for the fullness of Christ. That explains why the Lord deals with him as He does. It is because of God’s object, the measure of Christ. Paul has seen something immense in Christ. He has seen the immensity of the Lord Jesus, how great Christ is. He says: “If … I may attain…” (Phil. 3:11). Christ perfected, is the author of our salvation. He is bringing many sons to glory; the author of our salvation perfected. The work begins in us where it is finished in Christ; or where it is finished in Christ it begins in us. God is working with us to make us perfect in Christ.
The church is going to be a corporate expression of the measure of Christ. When you come to the book of the Revelation, the metaphor is changed from the church which is His body to the city with its sanctuary. Now, there you have the command to measure the sanctuary (11:1); also the city was to be measured (21:15-17). That is only a figurative and symbolic way of saying: “Examine to see how much of Christ is here, to declare the sum of Christ which we have realized through the ages and is now found in this Church.” It is the measure of Christ. That is, I trust, simple, but I hope also practical. I cannot see how it can fail to find us out.
Coming back to our earlier words… How much of the impression of Christ is there? Not that I am occupied so much with my own spiritual life, always turned in and analysing myself. When people come in touch with me do they find somebody concerned about his own spiritual life, so that the impression is spiritually me, bound up with myself? Or do they meet some awkward person, someone who has a great deal of self-interest in the things of the Lord—you hardly dare touch the things of the Lord in which he is interested, without meeting something of himself. How this old Adam insinuates himself into everything, he fills all things. In every one in whom the Lord Jesus has a large place, we may expect to find that it does not matter a scrap to that person what attitude you take, what you say, what you do; he does not come out against you. He says, “Well, it is the Lord’s interest, not mine.” He does not have an off-hand attitude, but says, “I am not in this thing, it does not injure me, only in that it might grieve the Lord; I am grieved if the Lord is grieved,” but there is nothing personal coming out at all.
Look at the Lord Jesus in the days of His flesh. There was no personal reaction at any time to any situation. He was never met apart from the Father, from the Spirit. May the Lord find us those who are growing in that way, at any rate. I suppose you feel as I do; I have not got very far, I am so often caught out. In the heat of the moment, we come up, it is not Christ. We are in the school. That is the way the Lord is dealing with us. If, as Paul says, we make it our aim (one version says, our ambition) to be well-pleasing unto Him, we have given ground for this working in us that which is well-pleasing in His sight. (Heb. 13:21). With that very phrase is bound up our word again: “The God of peace, who brought again from the dead the great shepherd of the sheep with the blood of an eternal covenant, even our Lord Jesus, make you perfect (complete) in every good thing to do his will, working in you that which is well-pleasing in his sight.” If we make it our aim to be well-pleasing, He works in us that which is well-pleasing.