As we come to look into God’s word, we need to remember that very simple but very important indispensable Bible principle; total reliance on God’s Holy Spirit. It’s the Lord’s Bible and the Lord’s book. He inspired it and He’s the only One that can open it to our hearts. I want to share a verse from Phil. 3:1, “To write the same thing again is no trouble to me and it’s a safeguard for you.” So, Paul said that when he repeats things, it’s not a trouble for him. He doesn’t mind repeating. So, I would like to say this morning, it’s no trouble for me. You know when I stand up here what I’m going to say. I say it every time, and that’s my heart and that’s the message. But it is a safeguard for you to hear it again and again and again. So, I don’t expect to give you anything that you don’t already know but maybe God will quicken it and make it alive to our hearts.
Father, thank You so much for the privilege You’ve given me to stand before your hungry people and to deliver a message from You. We just thank You, Lord, that You are going to guide now. We commit this session unto You in the matchless name of our Lord Jesus. Amen.
I start by saying that I’m excited to be invited to address the brothers at the Hashawha Conference. I take that privilege very seriously and I do go before the Lord and I want before the Lord and my heart has been profoundly moved as I sought His face. There are several conferences in front of me and to seek the Lord for each has been a tremendous blessing.
On Feb. 10 Brother Paul sent out a letter describing the general direction that we’d like to go in this men’s conference. In that overview I stated an expression from Psalm 25:14 & 15, “The secret of the Lord is for those Who fear Him. He will make them know His covenant. My eyes are continually toward the Lord, for He will pluck my feet out of the net.” The expression is, “The secret of the Lord,” and that is going to be the theme for the men’s conference.
Every year I’ve asked the Lord for a special verse which I call my “year verse” and every year I’ve been having it for many years. This year I felt inclined that the Lord was leading me to a book and not a passage. So, my book for this year is Philippians. I’ll be going through Philippians in my private time with the Lord. In my early reading of Philippians I was captured by an expression of the Apostle Paul in Philippians 4, “I know how to get along with humble means and I also know how to live in prosperity. In any and every circumstance I’ve learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.” It’s just that little expression, “I’ve learned the secret.”
I was meditating on the secret of the Lord from Psalm 25 and then I come here and Paul says, “I’ve learned the secret.” In the context it’s exactly the same secret. Paul claimed that he learned that secret and he testified what that secret meant to him in the Book of Philippians. In my heart, whatever it is, I want the secret of the Lord and I feel very confident that I should study that in terms of one who claimed he found it. Paul said, “I’ve found the secret. I have the secret.” So, in our men’s conference, we will be spending some time in the Book of Philippians.
In that overview letter I also stated that the backdrop of everything we’re going to look at, I’ve chosen from the parable of the vine and the branches in John 15. That is a near perfect illustration of the secret of the Lord. So, we’ll spend time on that. This morning I realize that not all of you will be attending the men’s conference. I suspect that there are some brothers here who have other plans or other desires and they won’t be attending. You ladies, you aren’t invited. So, to give a preview of what we’ll be covering which I understand is my assignment this morning, that would be like handing you a menu and saying, “This is what the men are going to eat. So, you have the menu.” That doesn’t seem right. So, as the Lord graces, I’d like to hand out a few hor’deurves; in other words, something we all can feast upon and not just a menu. I want to give you a taste of what the Lord has begun to work in my heart.
This morning I’d like to identify what is the secret of the Lord. That’s not difficult. You all know it but I’ll say it. Then I want to show you why John 15: 1 – 8, the vine and the branches is a near perfect illustration of the secret of the Lord. Then, I’m going to try to show you what I think the Apostle Paul meant when he said, “I learned it.” What does that mean? May God help us! Pray for me this morning in your hearts. Some of what I share this morning in our introduction lesson for Hashawha, I’ll revisit some of these principles and I’ll try to use different words, but the same truths.
What is the secret of the Lord? Let’s begin in the Old Testament Psalm 25, seed form because it’s Old Testament. It’s very simple in the Old Testament because everything is in stories. “The secret of the Lord is for those who fear Him. He’ll make them know His covenant. My eyes are continually toward the Lord. He’ll pluck my feet out of the net.” Stated in Old Testament terms, the secret of the Lord, my eyes are continually toward the Lord. That’s the secret of life. That’s what it’s all about. But that’s an Old Testament statement. That sounds simple but it needs to be developed and explained. What does it mean, “My eyes are continually toward the Lord?”
Let’s leave that Old Testament expression and let’s look at the New Testament commentary on that Old Testament expression. I believe it’s in Philippians 4: 11 – 13, where Paul said, “I’ve learned it. I learned the secret.” Verse 13, “I can do all things through Him Who strengthens me.” I know we’ve been accustomed to memorizing that verse and usually in the KJV, “I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me.” In the original Greek, actually, it doesn’t say that. It doesn’t say, “I can do all things through Christ.” It doesn’t say, “Through Christ.” In fact, in the New American Standard in the margin it says literally, “In Christ.” Through Christ and In Christ, I’m not going to get into the difference but that’s not the same.
“I can do all things in Christ.” The NAS says, “In Him.” I think I know where they get it because, literally it says, “Through the One who empowers me.” That’s where they get “Him”. Then, in the Greek it says, “The One who empowers me,” or, “In-dynamites me; Cristos.” So, the name Christ is actually in there. So, “I can do all things through Him and He is Christ. I can do all things in Him.” That expression “In Christ”, Paul is going to learn the secret and then he’s not only going to write this but he’s going to write thirteen epistles and in those epistles, a minimum of seventy three times he used the expression, or an equivalent, “In Christ,” or, “In Christ Jesus.” I didn’t count how many times. I read the minimum because my commentaries go from there up to ninety times. I don’t know how many times “In Christ” is mentioned and I’m not going to count it, but it’s a lot. That expression “In Christ Jesus” is the secret. My eyes are continually on the Lord and I can do all things in Christ Jesus.
In the same book in verse 21 of chapter one he says, “For me to live is Christ.” Christ is his life and to die is to gain more of Christ. That’s the idea. So, being in union with Christ is the secret of the Lord. My eyes are continually on the Lord. That verse says that when your eyes are continually on the Lord He’ll make you know His covenant. Let me ask you this, “Did the Apostle Paul ever get any light on the covenant of the Lord?” It’s because he learned the secret. The secret of the Lord is for those who fear Him. He’ll make them know his covenant. My eyes are continually on the Lord.
At this point in my heart preparation, I don’t know how much I’ll stress Paul’s deep conviction that the Lord Jesus, as He lived on earth as a man, as God intended man to live, is the perfect illustration of the secret of the Lord. That was why I was very careful that I said, “The vine and the branch is the near perfect illustration.” It’s not the perfect illustration. Christ Himself, His union that He had with His Father, that’s the perfect illustration. Everything the bible says about imitating Him and following Him and walking in His steps and walking as He walked, is fully explained by the way Jesus lived on earth as a man. There is no question that the best illustration is to watch our Lord Jesus live a totally yielded life to His indwelling Father and depend completely on Him for everything. Nothing can top that. He had it perfectly. We have the same kind of life, Christ lives in us, but we have it imperfectly. Christ had it perfectly.
This union that He had with the Father; the Father was indwelling Him and He is indwelling us. I may refer to that perfect illustration at the men’s conference but at this time I’m going to lean more heavily on the near perfect illustration. I’ll tell you why. It’s because in the minds of some (not everybody), the way Jesus lived on earth is so much a perfect illustration and such a strong illustration that some people dismiss it as not accessible. “He was God-man. He’s different. He’s not like me.” That’s why I want to come back to something that is a little more attainable and that is, the near perfect illustration.
The apostle Paul was in Christ as the branch is in the vine. Christ was in Paul as the life of the vine flows through the branch. It’s so simple. You are in Christ Jesus as the branch is in the vine. Christ is in you as the vine is in the branch. I’m in Christ, as the branch is in the vine. Christ is in me as the vine is in the branch. So, what’s the secret of the Lord? First of all, the secret of the Lord is no longer a secret. It’s a secret revealed. It’s Christ. It’s the Life of Christ. Say it however you want. It’s looking continually to Christ. It’s union with Christ. It’s abiding in Christ. I like the expression “The exchanged life”. It’s His life for my life. The secret that we’re going to look at in the men’s conference is abiding in Christ like a branch abides in the vine and reaping the same results.
I told you that I wanted to illustrate John 15:1, “I’m the true vine and My Father is the vine dresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit, He takes away. Every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it, that it may bring forth more fruit. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Abide in Me and I in you, as the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine. So, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine and you are the branches. He who abides in Me and I in Him, he bears much fruit. For apart from Me, you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, He is thrown away as a branch and dries up. They gather them and cast them into the fire. They are burned. If you abide in Me and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be My disciples.”
What I’d like to do is to give a couple of principles, basic principles, life principles, illustrated by the vine and the branches. Let me give you the heart of the vine/branch illustration. I want to do that by going to John 2. There is a very curious passage in John 2 and it begins in verse 23, “Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover during the feast, many believed in His name observing His signs which He was doing. But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men and because He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man.”
I want to call attention to that expression, “Jesus was not entrusting Himself to them.” And they are called “believers”. Many believed on Him but Jesus did not entrust Himself to them. If you have the KJV its says, “Jesus didn’t commit Himself to them.” It’s very much like He said to Peter, “If you do not let me wash your feet, you will have not part with me. I will not commit to you.” What did Jesus mean by telling believers, “I know you believe in Me and I’m not going to commit to you? I’m not going to entrust Myself to you.”
Let me try to explain it by bringing you back to the vine/branch illustration. Before the life of the vine can flow into the branch, the branch must be committed to the vine. It has to be connected. There has to be a union. The secret of the Lord… What is the secret of the secret of the Lord? It’s the message of the vine and the branches. The branch has got to be committed, totally committed to the vine before the vine will commit to the branch. Such a basic truth!
Do you realize that God is very patient and He waits patiently for His branches to commit themselves to the vine? He longs to commit Himself to them and He longs to pour Himself out. He longs to entrust Himself to you and to me. It’s not just believing. The disciples in John 2 were believers. Some people think they were hypocrites and they weren’t truly saved. I don’t know; it says that they were believers. But they hadn’t committed themselves to Him and He knew it. He knows what is in man.
Do you realize this, that God will never wait a moment longer than the moment you commit to Him; His life will flow. He will never wait another minute and never wait another second. When a branch is truly given to the vine, then the vine begins to pour out His fullness, His Life into the branch.
Let me give another illustration of the same point. This is from John 6. You are familiar with John 6 for two reasons. #1 It’s the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand and #2 He gives the discourse on the bread of life in that chapter. In this chapter Jesus refers to Himself both as food and as drink. John 6:35, “Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will not hunger. He who believes in me will never thirst. When you come, you eat. When you believe, you drink.” He who comes will never hunger. He who believes will never thirst. He is the water of life and the food of life. Then at the end of that discourse, He takes you back to the vine and the branches because He talks about abiding in Christ. Verse 55, “My flesh is true food. My blood is true drink. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood, abides in Me and I in him.”
Jesus said, “Think of me as bread. Think of me as water. Think of me as Life.” John 6:53, “Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves.’” If you don’t eat and you don’t drink, you don’t have life. It’s quite simple. Eating Christ and drinking Christ, his Person and His work; don’t miss the simplicity of the illustration. When you sit down to eat breakfast and when you sit down to eat lunch and when you sit down to eat supper, or whatever you call it (brunch or whatever is in between), you have committed yourself to that food. You have taken it in and have committed to that food. Every bite you take in and everything that you swallow you have committed to that food. The very moment you do that, that food begins to commit to you. It begins to nourish you and strengthen you and it goes to every cell in your body.
Let me ask you this. Is that what you expected that first day that you trusted Christ, that He would go to every cell in your body? You see, that’s the transaction that you made with Him when you accepted Christ. We celebrate that truth every week when we break bread together. We take it and then in becomes part… It’s a picture. That’s the message of the vine and the branch, when the branch commits itself to the vine, the vine will commit itself to the branch.
Let’s leave the illustration and spell it out in simple words. I think you already know what I’m saying but just let me say it. When God brings you to the place, the glorious place, where you are totally committed to Him for anything, you are the branch and you are in the vine and you say, “Lord, anything, Your will, Your pleasure, Your honor, Your glory; I just want Your life.” When you commit to Him for anything, He will commit to you for everything. That is the message of the branch and the vine. The branch will find the vine utterly sufficient for every part, every twig, everything it needs. The flow of the life of the vine is sufficient.
We begin there. That’s the heart and the message of the vine and the branches. There must be a mutual commitment. He says, “If you don’t, I can’t entrust Myself to you.” You must, and may God help us to understand that simple principle, be committed totally to the vine. If I am committed to Him for anything, He is committed to me for everything. May God help us with that!
We talk about the Exchanged Life. This is the second principle that I want to call attention to. We talk about the Exchanged Life in terms of the illustration. What does the branch exchange and for what? Let me state it this way. The branch exchanges what it is by nature to receive what the vine is by nature. What is a vine by nature? I’ll tell you how to find out. Cut it off. Cut it from the vine, cut it from the tree and let it lay there and come back in a day or so or in a week or five years, and you’ll see what the branch is. It’s dead. That is what the branch is by nature. And the branch says, “I don’t like that. I want to exchange that for something else.” That’s the nature of the branch; when the branch is exchanging the nature of what it is naturally and receiving what the vine is naturally.
I’ve known the Lord by His grace as men regard these things, for sixty one years. I’m the same Ed Miller I was on the day I got saved in 1958. Some people have the idea that as you go and get conformed to Christ that you are going to change and you are going to improve. “I’ve been a Christian for so many years and I’m more loving than I used to be and I’m more patient than I used to be and I’m more forgiving than I used to be and I’m more generous than I used to be.” Cut that branch off from the vine and let’s see what you really are!
In Christ I can do all things! I promise you, you don’t want to know me apart from Christ. I’m the same me that I always was and I’ll never change. That which is flesh is flesh and it will always be flesh and it needs to be crucified and not changed. It can’t be changed. Praise God that it’s been crucified. I haven’t improved one inch or however they measure improvement. But that’s what the branch exchange is. Jesus said, “Without Me you can do nothing.” You might say that’s not really true, “I can still play the piano without Him. I don’t have to abide in Christ to play the piano and I don’t have to abide in Christ to sing. I can still go on a mission field and I can still teach Sunday school and hand out books and I can drive people places.” There’s a lot I can do but nothing that is called “fruit”. “Apart from Me you can do nothing that originates from the life of God.”
The victorious Christian life is not the reward of not fulfilling the lusts of the flesh. The victorious Christian life is trusting the Holy Spirit Who lives in you. I love in that connection Galatians 5:16, “I say walk by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desires of the flesh.” That’s a promise. That brings me to one other observation. At the men’s conference we want to talk about this union; that we’ve got to be committed to the vine and we’ve got to be willing to exchange what we are by nature to receive what He is by nature. If I do, what can I expect?
Listen to these verses. John 15:4, “Abide in Me and I in you, as the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.” I can expect what God’s call “fruit”. Listen to verse 5, “I’m the vine and you are the branches. He who abides in Me and I in him bears much fruit.” What can I expect? Fruit. What can I expect? Much fruit. Verse 16, “You did not choose Me. I chose you and appointed you, that you would go and bear fruit and that your fruit would remain.” What can I expect? I can expect fruit and I can expect much fruit and I can expect fruit that remains. That’s a glorious thing.
When you cut a branch from the tree, from the vine, two things happen. It happens every time. #1 All fruit bearing ceases. It’s not possible to bear fruit apart from abiding in the vine. #2 He says that finally they are bound up and they are put away and they are burned. They are worthless. “I can still play the piano and I can still sing and I can still give money and I can still teach Sunday school.” Yes, but it’s worthless if you aren’t abiding in the vine. You can do all the same things and it looks the same but if it doesn’t come from the life of the vine, it’s nothing. “Without Me you can do nothing.” Fruit bearing ceases the moment you stop abiding in Christ. Fruit bearing ceases the moment I stop abiding in Christ. Fruit bearing is guaranteed when I abide in Christ; fruit, much fruit, abiding fruit.
It has nothing to do with eternal life when it talks about binding it and burning it up. It just said that it’s worthless as far as fruit bearing is concerned. When I’m abiding in Christ and you are abiding in Christ and He is the source of your life, everything becomes redemptive and everything that is called “fruit” is redemptive. I noticed in this fellowship the word “anointed”. You use the word “anointed”. It’s the same thing. That’s what we’re talking about. If somebody sings a song or somebody plays an instrument or somebody just show up and you say, “That was anointed and that touched my heart. That ministered to me.” That came out of abiding. It’s the same thing. The same song and the same words but if the anointing is not there, there is no blessing. It’s worthless. God has promised if you are committed to the vine and you are willing to exchange what you are by nature, then out of you will flow an anointing, a ministry. Out of you will flow that fruit, more fruit that remains. It’s all redemptive.
I’m sure God gets glory from everything but the redemptive fruit comes from those who abide in Christ. Those are the first three observations that we’re going to touch on. You’ve got to be committed to the vine, you’ve got to be naturally willing to give up that branch life and except that vine life and then finally you got to know that He is abundant. Life is abundant and that’s why He said that you are going to have abundant life.
I want to take you to one other area that we’re going to focus on and it becomes very important. Philippians 4:12, “In any and every circumstance I’ve learned the secret.” Hold those words. “IN any and every circumstance…” 2 Corinthians 2:14, “Thanks be to God Who always leads us in triumph in Christ and manifest through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place.” In any and every, Who always leads us in triumph. Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always.” Philippians 4:6, “Be anxious for nothing. In everything by prayer and supplication…” 2 Thessalonians 3:16, “Now may the Lord of peace Himself continually grant you peace in every circumstance.” This is an amazing list of absolutes and it’s not exhaustive. There’s plenty more.
Paul says in verse 12 again, “I know how to get along with humble means and I know how to live in prosperity. In any and every circumstance I’ve learned the secret.” Those comprehensive statements are not hyperboles. A hyperbole is an obvious exaggeration. Paul is not exaggerating. Paul is saying, “Brothers and sisters in Christ, I’ve discovered a secret and it’s literal. It’s actual and it’s real and it’s practical and it works in any circumstance, at any time. Philippians 1:12 in the KJV he speaks about “things that have happened to me.” NAS says, “My circumstances”.
It’s because I believe I am in Christ Jesus that I think I can expect all of this but believing I am in Christ Jesus is not necessarily enough that He’ll commit Himself to me. The apostle Paul said, “I’ve learned it.” Boy, may God help that sink into your heart, “I’ve learned it.” Every Christian knows it. Every Christian knows about the secret. They talk about it and they teach about it and they sing it in their worship songs and they write books about it and they listen to messages about it. If you talk to them they’ll say, “Yes, you’ve got to abide in Christ. I’ll tell you what that means. It means the branch is in the vine and the vine is in the branch…” If someone like the Apostle Paul, the number one enemy of Christ who had become the number one friend of Christ, if somebody like him needed to learn it, where are we? We need to learn the secret.
It’s not just knowing the secret. You’ve got to learn it and where do you learn it? That’s why Philippians is so basic. He said, “In every place and in every time and in every circumstance with every person…” Brothers and sisters in Christ you learn it in life. That’s where you learn it. You learn it in life. That’s why he says, “Let me tell you about the things that happened to me.” Why does he bring that up? He brings it up because he said that when those things happened to me I applied the principle and I was abiding in Christ and it worked! That’s what we want to discuss with the men. We want to talk about the importance of experiencing abiding and not just teaching it. It’s not theology and it’s certainly not mysticism. It’s life and it’s got to be learned. The secret must be put into action. That is the explanation of every test and every trial that ever comes into your life. I’m in Christ and so are you but have you learned it?
Ephesians 4 describes a lot of the works of the flesh. It gives a whole list and then he adds in verse 20, “You have not learned Christ in this way.” You have got to learn Christ. It’s not just reading the Bible. I won’t know if I don’t read but reading is not abiding. I won’t know if I don’t hear but hearing is not abiding. I’ve got to actually commit myself to Him in any and every circumstance, with any and every person and I will discover His life works and it’s a tremendous thing. That is God’s explanation of all the things you are going through and you will go through. Paul learned by experience that whatever state he was in, he had to learn that. He didn’t know that. He said, “In every state I’m content.” Now, he has faith with experience and he has conviction and assurance and he says, “I have tried it and I have begun to learn the absolute adequacy and sufficiency of the risen and limitless life of the One who lives in me and who flows through me and who wants to manifest by fruit His own life for me and for others.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, since the vine will never fail (you know that, right?), that abundance of life that He pours through Himself to you will never fail. It will work in any and every circumstance with no exception. This idea that He is speaking in hyperbole; He is NOT! He is saying that He always leads me in triumph. I can always rejoice. It works at all times. It doesn’t matter if I’m poor and it doesn’t matter if I’m rich and it doesn’t matter if I’m down or if I’m up or if I’m healthy or if I’m sick. If I commit myself to Him, He flows into me and I exchange what I am by nature and I receive what He is by nature and I taste the life of Christ and others can see it and taste it, as well. His life can never be less than abundant. When you are connected to Him you are going to have the abundant life.
I think, brothers and sisters in Christ, that this is so wonderful. It’s such a tremendous truth. Pray for us as we get ready for the men’s conference, that we learn what that secret is, so we can experience it. Paul learned the secret in all of the changing circumstances of his life. Great day, he was in jail more than he was in church. And that’s where he learned this marvelous life of Christ. Do you know that God is a wonderful teacher? We are all different. He arranges the circumstances of your life. He who knows all, both by omniscience and by experience, all things actual and all things possible, He will arrange things in your life so that you can learn to plumb the infinite resources of His adequacy and you can learn the life of our Lord Jesus Christ. That’s what we want to share in April. It’s such a wonderful life. Without it there would be no peace or hope or satisfaction. Abiding in the vine, we not only survive but we thrive. That’s what God wants us to look at.
I’ll grant you this and it’s part of the “all things and every circumstance”, Satan is real and he will contest every inch of ground that you need to take and I need to take. That’s why we need to be connected. There’s no hope apart from that. I’ll close with this. The Book of Philippians is so amazing because it has become new to me since I learned that Paul learned the secret and now I’m beginning to see the Book of Philippians as nothing else than Paul testifying of where it worked. That is the Book of Philippians. He said, “Let me show you where it worked.”
Here’s my little outline we’re going to follow. In the first two chapters he said, “I tried it and it worked in the world. I want to show you how it works.” And then in chapter two he says, “You know, this is amazing. I tried it and it works in the church, in the body.” Then he said, “I tried it and it works in the closet in my relationship with Him.” That’s what we’re going to be looking at, at the men’s conference; how abiding with Christ is true when I relate to the world, when I relate to the people of God and when I relate to the Lord.
The Christian life is social. You can’t live this life in a monastery. You can’t live this life isolated. You can’t live as a Christian hermit. We need the body and we need to come together and we need to be one and as we abide in Christ and as the branch abides in the vine, committed and laying aside what I am by nature and taking what He is by nature and allowing His life to flow and produce, that will work everywhere in any and every circumstance and in all places at all times with all people and with no exceptions.
Do you know that kind of life? It’s not just knowing. Have you learned that kind of life? We’re going to trust the Lord to teach the brothers how to learn Christ. I’m going to close with a benediction that I already quoted but let me quote it again. 2 Thessalonians 3:16, “Now may the Lord of peace Himself continually grant you peace in every circumstance.” The Lord be with you all. In Jesus’ name. Amen.