Chapter 17

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Category: Gathered Together

IN CONCLUSION

In closing, let us refer first of all to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Matthew 10:6). Then we shall turn to the Gentiles (Acts 11:46), both with regard to those who return to the home which they left and those who persist in wandering about, concerned with their own objectives. Whether they return or not the church will continue on its path toward glory and greatness. And the Lord will present her unto himself just as he has already determined (Ephesians 5:27). It is not our firm position that will change or determine God’s ultimate purposes. But we have written all this for we understand the blessing that comes to a life that is docile toward the Lord’s directions.

It is good to launch into preaching the gospel while searching for God’s elect who have not yet experienced their first encounter with Christ. But let us not consider unimportant those who entered the kingdom and then left. Only their stubborn intent to continue far away can give us the liberty to preach without a burdened conscience. Love for the brethren should lead us to exhaust all possibilities for achieving one sheepfold and one shepherd (John 10:16). They are like the priests that were missing in the preparation for Hezekiah’s worship (2 Chronicles 30), which are also needed in the days in which we are living.

We understand the urgency with which we move, reaching out to fill all with the gospel of Christ. Let us do it rapidly and fervently, but let us keep in mind the primary reason for the preaching of the gospel so that, in our hurry, we do not leave a task unfinished.

A CHRIST-CENTERED GOSPEL

Now we must conclude the subject before us. The gospel that the Lord commands us to preach is centred in his person and not in man. It is first of all for his glory, and then for the benefit of the human race, which also exists to give glory to God.

It surprises me to see how that which is spiritual has become humanistic. Although it is not surprising to find that those who have nothing to do with the kingdom of God see everything as centred in man whom, paradoxically, they have crucified. And that circle around man has become a ground for wars, conflicts, death and persecution.

The highest level that can be reached from that position is to love others as themselves (Some attribute to the Lord Jesus the command to love our neighbour as ourselves whereas, in reality, it was not the Lord who first gave us those words; they were the repetition of a concept found in the ancient law). What he came to establish went much further than that. What he said was that men were to love others as he loved them (John 15:12). And he loved them to the point of giving up his own life (John 3:16); he emptied himself, taking the form of a servant and dying on the cross (Philippians 2:7–8).

By no means will we be able to love others as God loves us by centralizing our focus on man. Men cannot be loved adequately by simply loving them; rather they can be loved only by loving and honouring God. Thus, if the centre of our preaching is God’s glory, we must establish at last that congregational worship which will transport us from glory to glory, by giving all the glory to God. Then, our love for souls, which we always proclaim as our incentive to preach the gospel, will be genuine. That is to say, it is based on true love in the Spirit.

Loving our neighbour as ourselves places us in a difficult situation where at times we must love in order to benefit another; and that difficulty is resolved by denying ourselves. The love of Jesus does not vacillate at the prospect of losing in order for another to be saved.

God-centred preaching of the gospel takes us to the point where Paul prefers to be cursed, separated from Christ, if that would serve to conduct his blood brothers to salvation (Romans 9:3). This is the spirit of the gospel: love as Jesus loves.

This is why we say that the hour has come to find the grand motivation needed to carry forward the great and final plan of salvation, in order that the Lord might return in triumph (Matthew 24:14).

That motivation is the salvation of souls so that here, on this earth, might begin the gathering to give worship to the Lord that will never end, neither now nor in eternity.

In eternity all our problems and disorientation will be ended. It is here that we must establish the parameters to do things in the right way. Although we still believe that the only one who does all things well is God. Let this matter of giving glory to God be no longer a theory; human methods are so complicated that they leave no room for the Spirit of God who, when he does work, he has to destroy the structures wrongly built by men. It is time to do things decently and in order (1 Corinthians 14:40), in God’s order and decency, not based on religious or humanistic patterns.

This is the reason we seek the Lord first of all, as we have said from the beginning. Here are the parameters:

A sincere seeking after the Lord to give him all the glory. A conviction that we need to preach the gospel as spiritual fathers, loving the lost as Jesus does. A complete identification with the church.

Methods that will vary according to the circumstances and the idiosyncrasy of the people, but always willing to make room for the Holy Spirit, never taking his place. This must be done in reality, not just in theory.

In the beginning this is directed toward those who have gone away, so that they might return, “gathered to give God the glory”.

Continuation, without letup and with diligence, in the task of gathering together in his kingdom all whom God has chosen.

And with an ever-present Amen on our lips, to always carry out with joy the sovereign will of the Lord.

Chapter 16

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Category: Gathered Together

CHRIST’S BELOVED

The highest level of relationship with the Lord that we find in the Scriptures is that which we see in Ephesians 5:22–23, where theology is presented of Christ and the church in a marriage relationship. Every relation with God is sublime because of who he is, but this relation is beyond all the rest, for it is the relation of love in its highest expression. There is no love more spiritual, either in the Bible or in real life, than the love between husband and wife.

In the Song of Songs, this love is expressed at a level beyond that seen in other books, but as we jump over the other Scriptures in between we reach the Epistle to the Ephesians, in the chapter mentioned above, and find the same sublime marital love in reference to Christ’s sacrifice of himself for his church. Nothing can be more spiritual than this comparison, even taking into consideration all the drama that unfolds in Scripture between God and his people, which is presented as a long epic of love and zeal, culminating in the glorious day of the wedding of the Lamb, in the framework of eternity (Revelation 19:7).

BELOVED

That relationship to which we have referred as “Christ’s beloved” is not seen in Scripture as a relation between God and individuals. The reference to the “disciple whom he loved” (John 19:26) does not have that connotation; it is rather like the love of a teacher or father. But when the Lord refers to his people he calls them “beloved” (Romans 9:25, cf Hosea 1:10; 2:23) and the use of the term is in representation of the people, not a single individual, but rather a congregation, even as he refers to the marital drama of Hosea.

This is perhaps the clearest exposition we find in the Bible to give us an idea that this elevated, sublime relation is not for those who are loners, but for those who have a clear concept of the church and identify themselves with the church. In that way the path to the highest level of intimacy and identification with Christ is open to them.

It might have been better to name this chapter “The bride of Christ”, but the term beloved is in the spirit of the letter. And the word “beloved” enables us to lay aside all doubt concerning the possibility of achieving intimacy with Christ apart from congregational identity. A believer in Christ will always be beloved in the true personal sense, but never in the marital sense. He must first be transformed into “sweetheart”, “bride” or “dove”, before assuming the identity of the church, so as to enter that level of loving relationship which will include him in the wedding that Christ Jesus will celebrate with all the church; that is, with those who have not distanced themselves from her.

What will be the place and the condition, then, of those who in that culminating moment of the drama described in the Bible, are still outside the congregation?

Better not to think about that! We assume that God will give to everyone the opportunity to return to the church and that all might receive the inspiration necessary to do so. If that were not the case, they would be only children, but never disciples, servants, friends or spouse. Certainly, it is sad to think of having to conform to that primitive condition of children of God.

Let us not speculate about the details. There is a chest full of precious stones that we desire to possess as a congregation:

“How beautiful you are, my darling! Oh, how beautiful!” (Song of Songs 1:15); “My dove in the clefts of the rock” (2:14); “How beautiful you are, my darling!” (4:1); “Come with me from Lebanon, my bride” (4:8); “You have stolen my heart, my sister, my bride” (4:9); “How delightful is your love, my sister, my bride!” (4:10); “Open to me, my sister, my darling,  my dove, my flawless one” (5:2).

These are words spoken to the church as the beloved, which the believer appropriates as his own, and which he can enjoy only in the company of his brothers and sisters.

When we reach the threshold of this relation with the Lord there is strong opposition from the enemy. The devil has not been able to keep the believer who is identified with the church from reaching this level, and he is going to try again with everything in his power and with great subtlety. It is here, with his costume of an angel of light that he seeks to hide his true identity, for his purpose is to deceive where he can and where he is given room. Thus the unwitting believer can fall prey to one of the saddest lies of his entire Christian walk: to try as an individual to enter into a place where only a congregation can enter. If it is only possible to enter as a congregation, then the individual’s entrance is completely false; instead of entering the Most Holy place of intimate communion with God, instead of entering the bridal chamber with the rights belonging to a bride, he has entered into a spiritual place that has nothing to do with God and which is under the enemy’s domain.

With this we are not invalidating individual prayer in the secret place. In no way do we mean to say that the believer should not set aside a time to be alone with the Lord. There are moments of spiritual seclusion with him that are not only permitted, but indispensable, and when believers have such intimate and continual fellowship with him it is clearly reflected in their face. But we need to point out that the church should not be left out. The priest, on entering the Most Holy place, even alone, was representing the people who were at the same time anxious to know the result of that personal relation between the priest and God (Hosea 4:9). When the women worshiped and anointed the Lord, it was done in public (John 12:1–8; Luke 7:36–50).

When we seek to enter alone in that place of relation with God, without being identified with the entire body, we face a similar situation, dominated by the enemy; for that individualism seeks glory for self, which is not given by God but by Satan. We find an example of this in well-known ministers of the Lord that have reached high levels in their relation with God. However, by failing to attend to their congregational identity that have become vain, even to the point that in some cases they have assumed the place of God alone. All the good they had done up to that time was ruined by usurping that place which is not for the individual, but for the bride of Christ.

Much that we hear not only astounds believers, but the whole world as well: the horrible testimony of personalities, ex ministers of the gospel, who fall into Satan’s trap of assuming a personal and exclusive representation of Christ. These are part of the list that John describes of the many antichrists that are in the world (1 John 2:18). We are not saying that other factors are not involved, besides that which interests us here. But because we are dealing with a specific factor, we are going to exhort intensely so that when reaching this level of the Spirit we are totally identified with the church, for we are otherwise exposing ourselves to that danger that has a tragic ending.

Simon the magician was a believer who, for the little we know about him, desired to have the things of God for his own personal benefit. For he was declared to be “full of bitterness and captive to sin” (Acts 8:23). It is not our desire to initiate a discussion outside the subject matter that concerns us in this chapter, as to whether it is possible for a believer to reach such an extreme condition. Paul’s warning concerning this— “If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall!” (1 Corinthians 10:12)— has much to do with what we are saying. On the other hand, Satan’s attacks are stronger when directed against those who have reached great spiritual heights. Vigilance concerning our salvation is always to be with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12).

DO NOT TREAT CARELESSLY IDENTIFICATION WITH THE CHURCH

It is wonderful to enter into God’s presence and dialog with him in the same way that the Spirit describes it in chapters 6, 7 and 8 of the Song of Songs.

Not only is it wonderful; it is also appropriate, and the life of the believer who has not only life, but abundant life (John 10:10) should be focused in that direction. This is the purpose of the return of our Lord Jesus Christ. And we want to encourage our brothers to seek that level. That is the reason we give the serious and solemn warning to not be careless about your identification with the church, in spirit and in truth. That place of great intimacy, where the groom praises the bride, is not found frequently in Scripture in reference to the relation that God has with his children; even though in other places in the Bible the Lord speaks in a superlative manner of the virtues that believers acquire in Christ (Matthew 5:13–14; Malachi 3:17), all of which is by his grace. This is the place where two extremes meet: a high level of holiness and the possibility of vanity.

The dialog between the groom and his bride is too intimate to be accessible to anyone besides the spouse. And the spouse is always the church, the congregation. The Lord would not have that intimacy with anyone except with her. It is useless, then, to pretend to have the latest revelation of God’s secrets, for which he has made us responsible as administrators (1 Corinthians 4:1), unless we reach that full intimacy and complete identification with Christ.

WHOEVER LOVES GOD MUST ALSO LOVE HIS BROTHER

We stand for a church in fullness of life and relationship with its beloved Lord, which means a complete church, conscious of its responsibility. The Lord wants believers who know him intimately, whose love and desire to be in his presence is united to the love for and union with their brothers and sisters, the only proper way to experience the love of God.
Let us share this mystery with those whose lives are spiritually active. There is no true knowledge of God without identification with our brothers, which is what John tells us and which should be repeated by all those that properly desire to enter the highest levels of spiritual life: “Whoever loves God must also love his brother” (1 John 4:21). This is the responsibility of the church, even though it may not be aware of all that we are saying here, for it will certainly achieve a genuine relation with the Lord and with men.

We believe it is worthwhile to mention some verses with the church inspires in the heart of those who desire to never be separated from her. Thus we propose to read with prayer this poem.

SHE

She is bride and body,
temple, holy city;
She is called by every name
that is loved by God.
She is the church of God,
alive and true,
Christ’s beloved;
with Jesus, she is heaven.
She is the apple of his eye,
the chosen one,
she is woman, virgin,
and with Christ, she is life.
The gates of hell
cannot resist her;
she it is who attacks and fights
and throws herself into the conflict.
Without him she is nothing,
with him she is everything;
she was purchased with his blood
and rescued from the mud.
She is, finally, the one who implores,
intercedes and weeps;
she is seated on a mountain,
worshiping Jesus.
All the efforts of the evil one
do not turn her aside;
she is the church of Christ
and of no one else. She alone.

Those who left the church in the past to do things on their own will find it worthwhile to return to her.

Chapter 14

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Category: Gathered Together

SERVANTS OF GOD

The fact that we are dedicating several chapters to help those who have ceased to congregate with their fellow believers to re-instate themselves does not mean in any way that evangelistic activity directed toward the lost should be detained. On the contrary, it should continue, with the motivation we have pointed out. If it is necessary to interrupt it (in case we are overwhelmed by its success or if bound by custom we should lose sight of the principal motive to offer to the Lord ever greater glory), it should be resumed once the problem is corrected.

All that has been stated should be sufficient for us to realize the importance of motivation. I am sure that those who are congregated according to the will of God do not need much exhortation to understand something so vital as the fact that evangelism needs no other motive than the glory of the Lord. It is much more difficult to get those who have left the church to understand their need to return, so that together we might get on with our vocation to preach the gospel to every creature, even to the ends of the earth. It is because we love first the family of the faith that we assume this task that they might respond to the call to return to the bosom of the church. Therefore we continue emphasizing this need of relationship with God for the sake of our brothers and sisters who are not gathered with the rest, and find themselves in this unfortunate situation, whether by ignorance or rejection.

TOWARD THE FULNESS OF CHRIST

Our desire is to present with much grace this exposition of the different kinds of relationship with God because of their great importance. Without this understanding it is impossible to achieve the ultimate purpose of God’s will, which is to reach the stature of the Lord Jesus Christ. The problem is that by continuing in the way in which our non-gathered brothers are walking, they cannot achieve more than an elementary state of well-being, even at the end of their days on the earth. And what is needed is that they live every hour, every minute, in God’s fullness, so as to reach their last days knowing that they have done what they should have done. Thus they will be, for all eternity, in the place where God in his good pleasure has destined them to be. This is more than sufficient motivation for those of us who are inserted correctly in the church of Jesus Christ.

These steps of relationship with God emanate from the fact that the cross is not a goal, but a door which leads to a way by which we move toward the fullness of life in Jesus Christ. But the stimulus for this is not the condition of the relationship in itself, nor the blessing it signifies, but rather the knowledge that this too redounds in the greater glory of God.

A life of intimate communion with the Lord offers much more praise and much more worship and service, than a life that is careless and self-satisfied. This is the objective. This is also the motivation and the stimulus.

When we place these different steps of relationship in the order of their proximity to the Lord, and we say that the condition of being a son is the primary state, in no way does that mean that such a state is the least important of our relationships with the Lord, since that relationship continues even without any other, whether that of disciple, servant, friend or beloved. Moreover, each of those relations has a unique importance in itself, and the person that is truly new and redeemed who walks toward the fullness of Christ should experience and possess them all. All are valuable in their interrelationship, even when each is valuable in itself.
Let us consider then the state of the relationship that follows after the Lord has proven us as his disciples. It is not the day of graduation or certification, but the day in which the Holy Spirit touches our life in a specific way that we know we are functioning as servants.

SERVING AS A CHILD

The things of the Spirit are difficult to enumerate, since they may occur together or separately. For the Spirit of God, as the wind, “blows wherever it pleases” and “you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going” (John 3:8). Even so are all the things that depend upon him. Yet for our understanding, we have to use periods of time to refer to them.

The efficient servant of the Lord fulfils his service once he is prepared; but in spiritual matters he may function without a specific preparation and therefore, without significant efficiency he may function as a servant once he barely opens his eyes to the kingdom of God. Even recently converted he may act as a priest, ministering to God in pure service, yet he will undoubtedly improve his quality and usefulness in the measure that he learns as a disciple. His service as a child of God unfolds even before discipleship, as an elementary service to God; beautiful, but elementary, like a child. He still lacks experience in serving others, although he may function spiritually, in the measure that he learns as a disciple. This is important to know, for if he begins to function as a servant of God toward others, without the relationship as a disciple, his service will be little more than humanistic, without a truly spiritual quality.

The childhood state is that of complete dependence on the Lord, since one is chosen and born apart from the will of the flesh (John 1:13). Personal intervention cannot change the state of the relationship, but it may affect the quality of sonship. However, in the other types of relationship, even though all depend upon God’s decree of election, the individual has much to do with his affirmative or negative response in regards to his role as disciple, servant, friend or beloved of the Lord. It is worthwhile to keep in mind that in the case of those who rebel against God’s election to reach those relationships, we will still reach them, whether in opposition or rebellion (in which case we may arrive injured and by a difficult and complicated way, which may bring tears and heartache).

We believe that when God chooses us as sons, in that election the call to enter into the other relationships is implicit. This is good to know from the outset, so that we remain docile in the Lord’s hands, and move from one relationship to the next covered by his sovereign and merciful will, for even though those relationships are mainly for his glory, the blessing is included for those who have been chosen for that progressive intimacy with him. Summing up, those various states of relationship bring well-being to the soul and spirit of those who are converted.

GOD’S SEVERE COMPASSION

It is a wonderful experience to do God’s will without complications, without protest or demanding explanations, without the common question of “Why, Lord?” which so many believers lift to the throne of glory, or just to the roof over their heads. This is why we send out the call to the dispersed of Israel, for we understand that they have been elected, and not simply as sons. Our call to enter into those relationships that are essential to reach the fullness of Jesus Christ is because of our persuasion that God, without a doubt, will win in the end, and that in this way others might peacefully respond to the call which could become not only insistent, but also quite severe.
These days are witnessing a tragic scene in the church in which we gather. Someone who was happy to be a son, and now understands that the call includes other levels of relationship, raises his voice in gratitude to God for he has come to his rescue. And as he turns uncomfortably in his bed while suffering from a severe illness he does not cease to give thanks to God and ask forgiveness for having stupidly failed to respond to the sovereign will of God. Humanists call that the cruelty of a hypothetical God. That brother, that believer, that child of God, calls it mercy and compassion from Jesus Christ. Now he is a disciple who listens carefully to the teaching, a servant who ministers to God and to a neighbour who is blessed by his words and his testimony of thanksgiving. A friend of God and a beloved one, for he enjoys as never before intimacy with the Lord.

The disciple of the Lord is a believer that remains in the congregation and listens, along with his companions and brothers, to the instructions that are given by the ministers who exercise the teaching function. A servant cannot fulfil his ministry alone. When we speak of servant, we think of a Lord and a house. For the Lord Jesus points this out in Luke 12:42, where he says: “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time?”

TWO KINDS OF SERVICE

We need to contemplate the two kinds of service: that which is primarily and always to the Lord, as we find in Ezekiel 44:15, where the priests are ordered to draw near to God to offer him the fat and the blood. In the same chapter we see two kinds of servants. One of them has been rejected by the Lord, for which there is no call of God. This is the kind of service imposed by God as punishment for those who have turned away, who have gone after idols and abominations. We do not want to speak of that kind of service. What we are concerned with in that chapter is to know that such service to the church, that does not include serving God, will never enjoy intimacy with the Lord. And it is distressing to discover how many believers who are servants have never had a loving encounter with the Lord Jesus, yet are active in church service. One of the charges against those who were punished by not allowing them to enter into God’s presence is that they had filled the church with foreigners (Ezekiel 44:6–14). When we enter into the service of the church without passing first through the service of worship to God, we incorporate strange practices and strange people that quickly change the entire spiritual and holy makeup of God’s house, including even the commandments of men which, with the passing of time, become traditions against which the Lord Jesus himself raises his voice (Matthew 15:6).
The fact does not escape us that we are not engaged in a study about discipleship or service, nor about any other kind of relationship with the Lord. We are only trying to light a lamp that will help us to see the need for those relationships and with them reach perfect communion with God and their incorporation in the church, such as is needed for the greater glory which he is worthy to receive. For otherwise, we would be in the church in an improper way.

When one has become a servant of the Lord, he needs to think about two facets of service. Even so, there is still a considerable distance remaining before reaching the fullness of his person. It is also sad to realize that a simple prayer or a specific meeting can be considered a moment of worship before God. To offer the fat and the blood, which speaks of the proximity to a person in recognition of his lordship and holiness, is still not the proximity of a friend or a lover, but rather simply that of a servant. It is impossible to conform to a routine of prayer, or to a predetermined schedule for a meeting, where nothing vibrates and nothing is inflamed, where there is little more than a cold ritual which can only satisfy those who aspire for nothing more.

GOD’S SATISFACTION

Our service to the Lord reaches its peak when the Spirit marks it in an unmistakable way, and the spiritual believers know the moment when God says he is satisfied. We are not referring to an irrational worship; rather to one that is controlled but fervent, where the presence of God is perceived. Some think that the control of the worship that is offered to the Lord should be the quietness of the fearful or the indifferent. Control is exercised when things are moving. Flight control is for airplanes when they are flying. When they are parked on the ground, they do not need control. To offer service to the Lord is to exalt him to the highest, and the movement of worship, praise, prophecy and all service that is offered to the Lord, is to be controlled by those that understand the things of the Spirit, and not by those who do not understand.

All this needs to be done at home. The faithful and prudent servant is the one who takes care of the house. It is the figure of the servant incarnate in the person of the Lord Jesus who as head is united with the church.
There are no conflicts between Christ and the church, since the church has been formed by her union with him. Therefore we should not invent a conflict that does not exist. As servants of the Lord we minister first of all to him, and then to those who are in the house; for the servants of the Lord are in charge of the house; that is so say, their feet are there, and the house is what keeps them alert, just as the apostle Paul said: “Every day I am under the pressure of my concern for all the churches” (1 Corinthians 11:28). Paul was a diligent servant of God, whose experience included being exalted to the third heaven (2 Corinthians 12:2) as well as battling so that there might be a harmonious relationship between those who were gathered as the church (1 Corinthians 1:10).

LOVING SERVICE

Perhaps the most eloquent part, as regards his function in the congregation, is the figure of the one who serves out of love (Exodus 21:5–6). Because the servant loves his master, he does not want to be free from his house. Yet he also loves his wife and children who are in the house. He does not want to have them wandering about, he is not interested in that deceptive liberty, for more important to him than the liberty to move about is his love for God, his owner.

We understand that in the one who is a slave for love there is a very mature spiritual criterion, which some in our times have not yet understood. Above all else he loves the Lord, and it is on this basis that he decides he does not want to leave the house. We cannot but doubt the love toward God of those who have no qualms about leaving the church. The other love that is involved in the decision to stay is the family. He knows that he cannot exercise complete dedication to his family because he is in service to the Lord, and this may be required of him at any moment. But the slave, the servant, prefers that contingency rather than being far from him and from the house. He does so because he loves his wife and his child     nd does not want to deprive them of the presence of his owner and the roof over their heads.

To love the family is to have them within the church. Currently, there is a tendency to proclaim that meetings should be suspended in favour of attending the family; and there are churches that meet only once a week, and if they meet in the morning they do not meet in the evening. This is not loving wife and children to a greater degree. A servant of God does not want to leave the house. He prefers to be there with all the family, for their own protection. But for this, such love for God is required that one has his ear bored to give proof of his identification as a servant of God. However, if the meetings of the church are no more than occasions to greet each other, it will certainly be enough to meet once a week or perhaps once a month. But in no way does this save the family. We refer to a family formed in God, where the wife and the child     re also servants in the house and, like the father, they also love the owner.
We should be in the church to see and to greet each other, as the second priority of that which is sublime and in first place: giving worship to the Lord, praising him with all our heart. This is the way his presence is manifest, and when God’s presence is evident, neither father, nor mother nor the children desire to ever leave the house again. All doubts are resolved, for they have found in a living God the full realization of their concerns.

The servant of God, then, just as the disciple, is also integrated in the congregation, even when he must go out to the ends of the earth to proclaim that the kingdom in which he now lives has come.

Chapter 15

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Category: Gathered Together

FRIENDS OF THE LORD JESUS

The brothers and sisters who do not congregate would not be one minute longer without the covering of the church if they could know how much joy there is in these relationships with God. The inevitable inconveniences that accompany fellowship are not worthy of comparison with the happiness that is experienced in being a child of God who is in his Father’s house, a disciple who remains in his place within a group of disciples, a servant who enjoys the protection of his Lord and his house, and who carries out his task in the right way because his Master has invited him to do so.

There are those who call themselves disciples although they are not, since they have assumed in a solitary manner what must be experienced within the relationship of a community. This was God’s intention in establishing these relationships: that they be shared with others as they enter into relationships of greater intimacy. And if we are near him as disciples and servants, in the next two relationships this proximity is more pronounced and at the same time more protected through the fellowship with other brothers and sisters. This is a way of avoiding situations of privilege that negatively affect even the most spiritual. We should never forget Satan’s fall (Ezekiel 28:1–19), nor Paul’s warning: “If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall!” (1 Corinthians 10:12). Brothers are always placed at our side to protect us from enemies we do not see, and who might surprise us, even in the most sublime moments in our relationship with the Lord. We say this because we are reaching a very intimate position in our contact with him.

TOTAL INTEGRATION

After what we have said, no further specific argument is needed to point out that the relationship as friends is also found in total integration in the church. We read in John 15:14: “You are my friends if you do what I command”. And among the many things he has commanded us, there are two that are always complementary: our union with him and our union with each other (John 17:21). If there were any doubt about this, at the conclusion of his thought, when he is telling them that they are his friends if they do what he commands, he confirms what we have just said: “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you” (John 15:12); a statement that affirms that God’s desire is not to see us dispersed and wandering without orientation, but rather firm and united, even when physical circumstances may require that we be, at times, distant from each other.

If we are not gathered together we are still children of God, but we are not considered his friends. It is a wonderful experience to become friends of your own father. And since in the kingdom of God there are no half-way points, we are either inside or outside; if we do not gather, then we scatter (Luke 11:23). Without a doubt it is proper to say that if one is not a friend of God, he is his enemy. In reality, whoever is not gathered together as God commands, is doing nothing positive for the Lord’s work. They are not his friends and, moreover, “He who is not with me is against me” (Luke 11:23). Nevertheless, the Lord’s attitude was never belligerent when dealing with human beings and he was awaiting the moment when he would be lifted up from the earth so as to draw all men unto himself (John 12:32). This is the reason we point out that drawing near to him is an effective way of being involved in the church, as the Lord desires.

THE NEED TO STAND TOGETHER

We should point out the person of the Lord Jesus in his most sublime expression of love: being lifted up from the earth, crucified on the cross. So that those brothers who are living outside the house might return to it, attracted by the love of the Lord, and thus cease to be his enemies. None of them, or few of them at the most, admit their enmity with God just because they are outside his house, but the serious reflection we have just mentioned should shed light on their situation as God’s enemies. The Lord came to form a people, and his friends are among that people; those who do not find themselves in that people are not his friends.

God has a benevolent attitude toward those who cast out demons in his name, and yet are not gathered in the Lord’s church (Mark 9:39). That benevolent attitude is expressed thus: “Do not stop him”. That means: “Let him continue”. But if we are allowed to choose, I prefer to be at Jesus’ side along with my fellow disciples and companions of the way, those of the congregation. It is a serious matter to be distant from the congregation. It places us in too close proximity to those mentioned in another text, so that without making a direct application, it should make us think solemnly and reflect on our attitude: “They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us” (1 John 2:19).

The true motivation for not wanting to be congregated, along with a lot of other arguments, is that they do not want to be on call to anyone, and prefer to leave aside the exhortation that recommends us to be subject to each other (1 Peter 5:5). The lack of that which is essential to the Christian life —humility and meekness— which the Lord requires as a condition to learn from him (Matthew 11:29), is the main reason for that distance. For the relations to which we are referring, when they are truly born of the Spirit, produce the humility that is needed to stay by the side of our brothers, who are not always easy to love.

FRIENDSHIP AND SERVICE

Friendship with God in the person of the Lord Jesus also produces friendship with those around us, for whatever begins with God produces repercussions in our neighbour. John points out that it is impossible for this to be otherwise when he says: “For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20). Love and friendship are evident and cultivated when we are near each other, not when we are far apart.

The proof of friendship that begins with God and continues with our brothers is seen when such friendship gives orders, not when it receives favours. That is the way the Lord presented the matter to his disciples. And so it is that we should accept it as from God. It is the same principle of submission to each other; it is based on friendship that places itself at the service of friends, and not that which expects to be served by others. No one is authorized to take the place of God’s sovereignty, but rather the place of the servant humbled to the point of death, the place that Jesus occupied. We may use God’s authority when facing spiritual enemies, the unseen ones who seek to detain God’s work. But we never attribute to ourselves God’s authority to require that others should serve us. Some things which the Lord Jesus did are his prerogative alone, such as to receive worship, declare himself as superior to Jonah and Solomon or declare himself as Lord of the Sabbath, as well as the matter that concerns us: to execute orders in the name of friendship. In such friendship we should offer our obedience, both to God and to those who are our friends. In this way, if it is understood that we are friends to obey, not to command, all abuse in the name of friendship will end.

NO RECIPROCITY

One of the things that helped us greatly to live together as a community is the saying that circulated among us: “What’s mine is yours, and what’s yours is yours”. This is not a printer’s error. Yes, you read it correctly. It would seem logical that if what is mine is yours, then what is yours is mine. But that is a selfish concept of friendship. Friendship, like love, always gives itself without requiring reciprocity.
If at some point this attitude should give place to capricious requirements on the part of those who wish to take advantage of others who desire to walk in the right way, as true friends of God, then we are called upon to go the second mile, when necessary, and give up our cloak as well. To act with such naivety, at times, is a necessary humiliation. But we are not too worried about that. What builds us up is to be at the disposition of others in favour of friendship with the Lord and with our brothers. We must come through this test approved. God is in charge of those who abuse and cause others to stumble. However, there will surely be forgiveness for those who do so without realizing it (Luke 23:34).

Friendship with the objective of obeying God’s commands brings its own recompense. It is not necessary to seek after it, but it always comes. When the Lord himself says that we should seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, he does not tell us to seek anything else, but rather that “all these things will be given us” as a consequence.

This addition or recompense is the revelation of his purposes: “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15).

FRIENDSHIP AND REVELATION

We cannot trust in the revelation of men or women who are “loners”. We have already seen that they are not friends of God; therefore they do not have the revelation of Jesus. This revelation always comes from those who are in the church, who are friends of God and their fellow believers, who are fired up to carry out the orders that come from above, or even sometimes the whims of brothers who don’t have light. Even this gets straightened out as we walk along together, for only together in friendship do we receive the revelation that we need and that the Lord wants to give us, that which the Father has revealed to him.

Without God’s revelation few things can be accomplished in his kingdom. We are not even able to interpret the Scriptures correctly, even when we have the most advanced hermeneutics. We are unable to reach the heart of the sinner with the message of life, if it has not been revealed to him previously. Nor can we edify the church with prophecy, for this only works when there is revelation from God. Thus, friendship with the Lord Jesus is what guarantees a fruitful ministry. If we have only been sons until now, we should become disciples, so that we might become servants and then friends of the Lord, knowing that everything springs out of his sovereign election.

THE PRINCIPLE OF HARMONY

Happy is the one who does not require a lengthy process to enter into these relationships with God. And happy is he if, with all that has been said, he prepares his heart to respond to the call that God sill surely extend to each one to understand what he reads, so that he might rapidly participate in these relations that bring him closer and closer to God.

A church in which the brothers and sisters are all friends, since this friendship is from God, will be a church that has few problems in fraternal relations. And this is what we should desire; so that as the Lord grants us his friendship, we might offer our friendship to others. Friendship respects others, and respect for others is the principle of harmony. And the Scriptures tell us that harmony is good and pleasant (Psalm 133).

“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (Proverbs 17:17). “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24).

We should seek to get acquainted with those who attend church and extend them our friendship. And we should be sure that this friendship springs first out of our relation with God, for if not, a humanistic sentiment will corrupt that holy and delicate friendship in the Spirit.

Because of his sovereignty, everything begins in him, and he then pours it out over us until it overflows.

Let us say once again, this relation spring out of God’s choice, God’s election. We then appropriate it, not because of any personal merit, but by that blessed and simple faith that God has deposited in us, just as he did with Abraham. He believed, and because he did so, he was called a friend of God (James 2:23).

ABRAHAM’S EXAMPLE

Friendship with the Lord Jesus, expressed in fulfilling his commandments, leads us to deeds like that of Abraham. When he had the knife at his son’s throat, when he climbed the mountain and when Isaac asked him where the sacrificial lamb was, he knew the answer: “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son” (Genesis 8:22). He was a friend of God, and the Lord had shown him all that would happen. The faith of the friends of God is a revealing faith; it is accompanied by revelation and therefore it continues confident until the end of the road. In the beginning, Abraham had not yet entered into that friendship with God. That is why he went out, not knowing where he was going (Hebrews 11:8).

Then God granted him his friendship. From that time forward, Abraham no longer walked in darkness, but rather perceived God’s will, even when he stumbled at times. Paul tells us that he was growing stronger in faith, giving glory to God (Romans 4:20). And his faith culminated in that act of supreme obedience, but also of supreme revelation. The moment was too solemn to tell a falsehood, and when he said “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering”, it was because his faith in his friendship with God had revealed to him that moments later God would say: “Do not lay a hand on the boy” (v. 12). And then, the sound of the ram in the thicket (v. 13) would be the proof of that friendship that brings additional revelation. Otherwise, as Hebrews 11:9 tells us, if he had been obliged to go to the very end, God would have raised him from the dead. That too would have been revealed to him.

COME BACK HOME!

Come back home, those of you who have left! For these pages which have been so beautifully written in the Bible, and which many beyond Bible times have continued to experience, and others will yet continue to experience … all this occurs within the kingdom of God. There it is that his name is glorified in excellence, in the place where today, as yesterday, the Hezekiahs are calling for the priests to be sanctified, and for us to go out together to the ends of the earth to seek those whom God has pointed out, and bring them together to his house to give him greater glory in worship.

We still have to consider the relation of the beloved, yet we can rejoice in knowing that we as friends of God have reached the point where we can enter that relation. For without friendship, service and discipleship, we would face serious difficulties, for the closer we get to God, the greater is the enemy’s subtlety. It is therefore necessary to pass through these different levels of relationship and live intensely each of them.

Chapter 13

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Category: Gathered Together

DISCIPLES OF THE LORD

Mark says that the disciples whom the Lord called were first of all to be with him and, afterwards, he would send them to preach (Mark 3:14). .Occasionally, he would speak to one or another separately to give a challenge that was needed (Mark 8:32–33), and once he separated three of them to show them a particular aspect of his person (Mark 9:2–13). But this was exceptional. Normally, they were all together in daily fellowship.

The disciples were first sons, for in believing in Jesus and following him they became sons of God (John 1:12). Still, they had to become disciples so as to learn from their master. If children do not go to school, they do not cease to be children, but they will not become disciples.

Sonship is never lost and, as regards relationship with God, we are his children or we are nothing. This is our initial condition; it is the step through the door of salvation. No matter how rebellious one might be, whether far from home, dissolute or lacking in love, he does not cease to be a child of God. He can be a good son or a bad one, but he is always a son. No one can say: “Once I was a son, but I am a son no longer”.

That is what enables some to have the courage to leave home; they know they are children of God who have a father that says that if we go to him he will not turn us away (John 6:37).

So then, the model of discipleship we have with the Lord is of the collective type and not individual. Very few times did Jesus speak specifically to only one, or to a group of them, since with them he would initiate the church, for which he would go to the cross. The church is a congregation, not a particular individual. Therefore, being a disciple implies that one is gathered with others. In the idea of discipleship which the Lord exercised, he used no other kind of formation.

WHEN TO BEGIN TEACHING?

In chapter two of this volume we mentioned something about child     nd disciples, while establishing the importance of the normal lapse of time that should occur between one condition and the other. At the outset we are not prepared to receive teaching which is sometimes interpreted incorrectly, for there is not yet sufficient formation. An excess of intellectuality produces the error of self-sufficiency. It can be alleged that the Lord Jesus from the beginning taught his disciples. This is also exceptional, since his teachings were eminently spiritual, and not like many of the methods that we use, which simply respond to a technique that has little to do with the Holy Spirit.

Neither do we have a date for the initiation of classes by the Lord and we do not desire to sin by being too orthodox, emphasizing that the newly converted should be left without any kind of teaching; of course he should attend the times of worship and the meetings where generally there is preaching. What we are saying is that we need to be careful to not over-emphasize teaching, as if he were already a disciple. Potentially, he will be one, but for now he needs to be in the maternal bosom. Those who rush to take their children to nursery at a very early age seem to want to get them out of the way, or perhaps rid themselves of the trouble they bring. There will be time for that. Let them first feed on the presence of God and take the spiritual milk, but not hurry them to be productive in the kingdom. Of course, we do not refer to this as a fixed rule, for if we learn to live in the Spirit we will know how to act in each case. But we understand that it is prudent to take the time and begin slowly the process of spiritual nourishment of those who will become disciples. There is a long list of failures in those who have been in too much of a hurry, whether in teaching or in going out to preach. The prudence to which we refer is not cowardice nor laziness, but rather spiritual understanding. “The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty” (Proverbs 21:5).

Our first concern is that the children be well fed. Correction and teaching will come in time and is of great importance. This is mentioned only with the intention of establishing the difference between one condition and another, pointing out that we need to avoid staying permanently in the condition of childhood, but advancing in relationships that are ahead for each of the children to enter.

FATHER AND TEACHER

Jesus was both father and teacher of his followers, and this model seems to be quite valid and functions well in the church, where the pastors should be both teachers and spiritual fathers. Perhaps the gap that exists between teaching and spiritual nourishment is due to the fact that the father is one person and the teacher another; and at times there may be competition between them, in which the unfortunate child and disciple is the one who suffers the consequences. But we are not dealing with the relation of a spiritual child of a pastor, nor with that of a disciple and his teacher. In fact, we are dealing with the relationship that those who are converted should have with our Lord. Even though we have dealt with this earlier it is worthwhile to consider it again briefly.

We have seen that the kind of discipleship the Lord Jesus used is congregational. At the outset he establishes that there will be no teaching outside the church. He establishes this in that group that begins one at a time, and even when it is an itinerant church, it is not the disciples who are itinerant but the church, for they are always together; they are not changing companions every Sunday. In that mode they reach Pentecost when the church arises in its glory and in an official way. The reason for the moving about of the disciples, from that time forward, is to respond to the direction of the Holy Spirit and the administration of those who govern the congregation (Acts 13:2), but not because of any capricious action on their part.

MEANING OF DISCIPLESHIP

A disciple is a consecrated person, one who perseveres in the word: “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples” (John 8:31). The Lord said this to some who were not holding to his teaching, nor did they remain in the congregation. Rather, they took up rocks and sought to stone him. To remain in the word, to abide in Jesus, is to stay in the congregation. It is to be with the other disciples, to follow with them, the same ones all the time as well as with others who are added along the way. There is no way one can be a disciple without being gathered with the rest. Let whoever considers himself an itinerant disciple with no backing from a congregation put that error out of his mind. He may have the concern of a father, but he does not receive the instruction of a teacher.

A good illustration comes to mind concerning the excellence of staying put. It is like going to the hairdresser, whether man or woman. In order for the hair dresser to do his job you need to be still. It is nuisance when child     re always moving about and will not be still, for the hairdresser finds it very difficult to do his work. The mother or father has to stand over the child to hold him or correct him, to get him to be quiet. It is even more serious when a barber has to shave his client, although nowadays it is hardly done anymore. The customer has to be very solemn before the barber’s razor. Such conduct is indispensable to get a good shave.
The use of this illustration is not intended to detract from the seriousness of our subject, but it is not unusual for some to wind up with a bit of a wound if they do not sit quietly before the Lord. And by quietly, we mean not moving around without any clear course, from church to church, without remaining in any.

Back to the case of the barber, one of them once said to me:
—A barber’s service is more important than a good meal.
To which I responded with surprise:
—Tell me why.
—Because it makes a face glow.
(We might add: A haircut makes you look a lot cleaner!)
Following the barber’s comment, I reflected on the fact that the shining face after a good shave is because the customer sat quietly while the barber was doing his job.
Sitting quietly not only avoids injuries, but also makes the believer’s face to shine. He that sits quietly has a sense of security and gives assurance to others. That is not the case with those who are here one day and somewhere else the next. His face cannot shine for it has cuts and adhesive tape.

BEARING WITH ONE ANOTHER

If you have to move from one place to another, do it along with the people, with your fellow disciples, as is befitting to one who aspires to be, not only a child of God, but also a disciple of the Lord Jesus staying in the word, which will never lead us to stop meeting together.
Others prefer not to be in the church in order to avoid problems with their brothers and sisters. I still remember the sign of relief of someone who left the church: “Now I am free, at last!” But later he had to return. And thank God, he did return.

Happiness is not simply the absence of problems; but in walking on the water. The Scripture wisely tell us we need patience (Hebrews 10:36). Happiness is putting into practice the virtues of Jesus, which he has generously given us. “Bearing with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:2) makes us happy and, moreover, shapes the believer’s new personality. God has placed us in the midst of our brothers. It is foolish to leave the place where God has put us.

In the barber shop we also need patience, whether in awaiting our turn or when we are being served. Especially when there is little conversation. Patience … after which our faces will shine.

When pieces of metal leave the lathe to be polished, they are placed in a tumbler which then spins around. There is considerable noise as the metal pieces spin around and touch each other. Afterwards, they come out polished and shining. This process does not need to be repeated, but it is necessary to spin them together. Being together with each other has the effect of removing the rough edges of our character. Nothing works better to polish our rough edges than the brothers and sisters in our congregation. But once the job is done there is no need to continue spinning.

Each separate piece has its place in the machine, and it is generally efficient and useful. God knows what he is doing in placing us together. The difficulty of facing problems with others should not be seen as a problem. It is all part of the primary process of formation of the new character in God, and we should not put it off by escaping from the church, which also involves ceasing to be a disciple of the Lord.

LOVE ONE ANOTHER

From whatever viewpoint, the statement concerning the gospel in John 13:35 is inclusive: : “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Love never seeks separation; the condition of relationship with Christ in no way is individual. This love, which is the condition for recognizing a disciple, is shown in the life that is shared with others. If, for whatever circumstance, there has to be a physical separation, it would be by God’s sovereign intervention, and the result would be stronger bonds of brotherly love with the disciples that are physically together. We believe in love at a distance, but not for the sake of convenience, but because of circumstantial need. Yet we understand that love is practiced in the congregation as a rule, and the exception to that rule would be the circumstance just mentioned.

To be a disciple is more than having a title; it becomes a way of life whose function is shown in relation to one’s brothers and sisters. And no other group of brothers has the validity that belongs to the church. The group that accompanied the Lord in his travels around Palestine was the church, the same as the one today moving about and evolving on this earth.

DISCIPLESHIP IS NOT A SECRET

Evidently, God is interested in our knowing that we are his disciples. Let us take note of the text: “By this all men will know that you are my disciples” (John 13:31). God did not create discipleship to keep it a secret, even though there have been secret disciples, which are not mentioned in the Bible, so that we will not follow their example. The church, the maximum gathering of the Lord’s disciples, is not to remain hidden but rather, like the ligh, should be lifted high to enlighten others in the house (Matthew 5:15). It is also like a city set on a hill (Matthew 5:14), so that it can be seen from afar. This manifestation can be achieved only by the love of those who, gathered as the Lord’s disciples, live together with all the rough edges of their character which are brought in from the other kingdom. Living together serves to polish us, as lovingly as possible, as we brush against each other, under the continual correction of the Holy Spirit who will leave us polished and shining, so that all might know that we are the Lord’s disciples.

We can love each other even though we disagree. In living together we may even elbow each other occasionally, but we see that as time passes there is little room for disagreements. We see that if we are gathered, we will reach the place of unanimity which surprises us with its freshness and spontaneity. The secret is in being gathered together, in having fellowship. We get caught up in many deviations when we are distant from each other.

COMMUNITY IN THE COUNTRYSIDE

When a certain group of the Lord’s disciples that formed part of the church felt that God would have us start another community, with the approval of the church we went to live in the country. There were about forty of us. That community continues to exist today, after twelve years, having written some very eloquent pages in the history of a congregation that lives together. But at the outset there were strange versions of the most picturesque and malicious kind about us … especially of the malicious type. It was so much so that we were ready to rebel and quit out of cowardice when we learned of the false testimonies and accusations to the effect that our living together was not in accord with God’s ways. We can assure you, and God is our witness, that he was teaching us to live a life of holiness we had never known.

But what especially interests us is to reveal the attitude of a pastor experienced in such rumours that are not based upon a visible witness; he came to ask of us what truth there was in what was being said. We responded with the classic: “Come and see”. He did not come, but he did believe in our word. Until that time we had enjoyed little fellowship with that pastor, but from that time forward we did and we were able to bless each other mutually. As we mentioned, that community continues to function. But the ill-intentioned rumours have disappeared, for God’s people are learning that distance between us does not produce good fruit. On the other hand, fellowship not only clarifies things, but also opens the heart and removes the shadows of doubts and evil.

Let me say in passing that it is not good to allow yourself to be moved by rumours that circulate and even abound in a church that still does not walk in perfection. It is better to go to the source, as that pastor did, who came to clear up his doubts and wound up trusting in us. Even Paul showed confidence in people such as the Corinthians (2 Corinthians :16), with whom he was spiritually, if not physically, gathered.

We meet together to love each other, we meet to have confidence in each other and also, whenever it is necessary, to cover each other’s sins with love (1 Peter 4:8). For in love we show that we are the Lord’s disciples.

THE FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT

This is the reason it is necessary to desire to enter into a new relationship with the Lord, since such an experience necessarily brings us together; whereas if we continue only in the condition of God’s children, we run the risk of trying to work things out by ourselves. If our concept of childhood is patterned after that which is known in many of the more advanced countries, at sixteen years of age, that is to say when there is still not even an elementary spiritual maturity, many seek independence from their families, which is clearly no more than an illusion as compared to God’s way. After the return of the prodigal son and the father’s conversation with the older brother, that home must have been a happy one, with all of them living together.

Even though our purpose is directed toward congregational worship, to offer to God greater glory in our worship, we understand that these steps in our relationship with him are precisely to give him that greater glory. This is why we read in John 15:8 “This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples”, which is equivalent to saying that the disciple, besides being a person who is gathered with his brothers, is one who bears fruit for God.

We have always had the tendency to point out that the fruit of the believer is seen in the souls that he has contributed to saving, but that is not the fruit to which the Lord refers to here as a condition of discipleship. His words are always spirit and life and, except where he should expressly indicate, that cannot be the fruit mentioned here. It is the fruit of the Spirit, which we find pointed out and clarified in Galatians 5, as well as occurring throughout the Bible, as the result of a life offered to the Lord. It is also mentioned in Ephesians 5:9. This refers to the virtues of Christ, which are also found instilled in the spirit of every true disciple, where they flourish for God’s glory. It is not “many fruits”, but “much fruit”. It is a product manifest in its fullness as: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. There is no law against this manifestation, nor is there a limit. To the disciple it is given in great spiritual abundance and, therefore, without limit. It is “much fruit” that honours God, it is the love that does not decrease, imperturbable faith, eternal joy, peace like a river. This may well be translated into souls that are saved, for that is also the responsibility of the disciple, but it is more than that; it is his unavoidable way of life.

And this fruit is brought for God’s glory in fraternal fellowship, gathered with other disciples in a holy and joyful enduring convocation. To be a child and to be a disciple offers to the Lord greater glory; yet there are greater expressions of glory, those that flow out of a deeper relationship with God, and which cause a congregation to be more closely united.

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