what is a churchTHE LOCAL NEW-TESTAMENT CHURCH

written by  on the topic of Articles by Pastor Trieber on December, 2008

Today, I have the privilege to draw to your attention the New Testament local church. The church is under attack in this day in which we live. It is certainly under attack by the world and the flesh, but I also find that it is under attack from within. We have diluted our position and have become very worldly, unfruitful, and self-centered hearers of the Word of God.

For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.
– Acts 20:29-30

Therefore, because of the apostasy that is so prevalent in our churches today, I am desirous to come to you as the book of Jude says in vs. 3-4:

Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints. For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.

As we consider the New Testament local church, I want to remind you of the importance of our name. We are not a—

  • Fellowship
  • Center
  • Association

We are a church. That means we are a called-out body of saved, baptized Christians.

Jesus did not give His life for the association, center, or the fellowship; but rather, He gave Himself for the church. Let us not become weak concerning our name.

In addition, I want you to remember our Leader.

For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the Saviour of the body. (emphasis mine)
– Ephesians 5:23

Our Leader is neither a charismatic and persuasive individual nor a denominational headsuch as an organization, a Bible college, etc. Our Leader is the Lord Jesus Christ.

I also want to remind you of our responsibility.

That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.
– Ephesians 5:26-27

We are not to be a worldly church, but rather a sanctified church—a glorious church without any spot, wrinkle, or blemish. We are to be holy. May I remind you what the Bible says:

But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints; Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks.
– Ephesians 5:3-4

Our purpose is to take the Gospel to a lost and dying world.

But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.
– Acts 1:8

And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.
– Matthew 28:18-20

Our financial program is that of tithes and offerings.

Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye. Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come.
– I Corinthians 16:1-2

I am so burdened for the New Testament local church. I see us wavering on so many fronts. In addition, I am very concerned with the philosophy that has invaded our churches.

Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.
– Colossians 2:8

Somewhere along the line, we developed the idea that we can listen, read, and study neo-evangelicals and separate the bad from the good. It is not possible.

For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.
– Acts 4:20

Many of us are witnessing the influence of user-friendly preaching, music, terminology, dress, and appearance that is not becoming of saints. May I remind my readers that we will never reach this world and rescue a nation for Christ by becoming like the world, but rather by being separate from the world. Why in the world would anyone want to be like the world? If a Christian were going to be just like the world, what would be the reason for leaving the flesh to come to a compromising church?

My prayer is that we will fall in love again with God’s institution, the church. We need to protect it and realize that, according to the book of Jude, the historic doctrines of the faith have been deposited into our care.

FOR A HISTORY OF THE CHURCH FROM THE TIMES OF CHRIST – The Trail of Blood

THE TRAIL OF BLOOD CHART THAT GOES WITH THE BOOK ABOVEThe Chart 

Read THE CHURCH ONLINE by my childhood hero

  1. Part 1
  2. Part 2

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The Church, the Body of Christ – by Jack Hyles

And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called the elders of the church. And when they were come to him, he said unto them, Ye know, from the first day that I came into Asia, after what manner I have been with you at all seasons,

For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God. Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Acts 20:17, 18, 27-29

The word elders is plural and the word church is singular. We know that the church in Ephesus had more than one pastor. Luke asked them to come to Miletus to meet with him.

There is a doctrine that teaches that the church consists of all believers who also form the body of Christ. It is popular because we have listened to inter-denominational people teach the Bible. The Bible clearly teaches that all believers do not form the body of Christ. The local church is the body of Christ. We have developed a total misunderstanding of what the term the body of Christ means.

There are three titles given in the Bible for the position of pastor.

The fourth chapter of Ephesians refers to the title of pastor, which means shepherd.

The second title for that position is the title elder, meaning protector and feeder of the sheep. It implies that a pastor should have experience and that he should be able to counsel and lead wisely.

The third word is the word bishop, which is the word for overseer. It is his job as the bishop to oversee all the work of the ministry of the church.

The church at Ephesus was a large church. It was the church to which other churches looked for leadership and guidance. It had several pastors. Paul called for the elders (plural) of the church (singular). This could not be the invisible church, because it had elders. The flock spoken of here was the church members. The word overseers, in the Greek, is the same as the word bishop. God says to feed the local church over which the Holy Ghost had made them the overseers. These men or pastors could not have overseen every Christian in the whole world. It is not talking about all Christians. It is talking about the local church at Ephesus. So it is speaking in this passage about one church, not a worldwide invisible church.

Note what is said about this church in this passage.

1. Jesus purchased the church at Ephesus with His own blood. That does not mean that Jesus did not die for everybody. In this passage He is referring only to the church at Ephesus. There are so many things that happened on Calvary. We will never know all of them. For example, our healing was on Calvary. The Bible says: By his stripes we are healed. We know that Jesus died for all sinners. He also paid the penalty and shed His blood for the church at Ephesus. You cannot refute that.

Paul called for the elders of the church in Ephesus and told them to take heed that they feed the church of God, which He had purchased with His own blood. He was referring only to the one church. Jesus purchased that local church with His blood. This was not a reference to all Christians, although He did die for all people. He also died to purchase the individual church.

2. He chose to call the local church His body.

And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, Which is his body the fullness of him that filleth all in all. Ephesians 1:22, 23.

This word church is the word ekklesia, which means a called-out assembly. All believers have not yet been called out and assembled. They will not be assembled until the rapture when the church of the firstborn will be assembled in Heaven and all believers become a church. All believers are not now a church. He is referring to the called-out assembly or local church in the city of Ephesus.

He calls it His body because Jesus purchased the church, so He owns it. He calls it a body. The word body means, a complete instrument. Jesus was talking about ownership. It is His body. He owns it. He purchased it with His own blood. The local church is not the body of Christ in the sense that it is His arms and legs. It is the body of Christ in the sense that He bought it and owns it. So, the church and the body are the same.

The same thing then is true about each individual local church. Each church on earth is His body that is to carry out the work of God. That is why we should do His business. It is His church. We have no right to organize it like we want to organize it. We have no right to do things we should not do. We have no to make His church into a social club. It is a place where God’s people come to be strengthened to go out in the world and tell the people about the Saviour.

And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence. Colossians 1:18

Since Jesus owns the church, and it is His body, He should be the own who gets the preeminence in all things. He should have preeminence in the choir. He should have preeminence in the church-school. He should have preeminence in the college. He should have preeminence in the youth program. He should have preeminence in every single ministry of the church.

Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church: Colossians 1:24

This is referring to the church at Colosse, one church. Again in both of these verses, the word church is the word ekklesia, or a called-out assembly. Again, the Bible refers to the church as the body of Christ. He owns it. Jesus owns only one body. He owns only one organization. He does not own any other institution except the church. It is His body.

Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; Ephesians 5:25

If anything refutes the invisible church, this is it. Jesus compares Himself and His church to a man and wife. Consequently, if there an invisible church, then a man has an invisible wife. Jesus does not love an invisible church. He could have chosen another relationship to compare it with. He could have chosen angels because they are invisible to us. He could have used spirits or souls, but He chose to use the visibility of a man and his wife. Jesus is talking about a visible organization which is His church and His body.

Here are several observations in light of these things.

1. His body is His called-out assembly.

2. He purchased it with His own blood.

3. It is His only body.

4. He loves it dearly.

It is a tragedy how many Christians place outside Christian organizations over their own local church. I have seen it happen all over the country. If Christ feels the way He does about the church, then each one of us should likewise recognize its importance. Many Christians are more offended when their pastor tells the truth about the decay of a parasite organization than they do when a similar organization criticizes or speaks ill of their local church. The New Testament church is the institution He loves, and we are to love it and be an active part of it.

For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. I Corinthians 12:12

A called-out assembly is the same as the church. The church is the same as the body. The body, called-out assembly, or local church has many members, and all members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. We do not belong to the body that He purchased just because we are saved, because He purchased the local assembly. What difference does all of this make? It makes a big difference because there are many Christian people who are not a part of a local church. There are Bible colleges where most of the faculty and students are not actively involved in a local church. I am not talking about liberals. I am talking about fundamentalists. They believe that the church is not as important as the college.

You are as right with God as you are with the institution for which He died. All over the country there are Christian people who minimize the importance of the church, His body. Hyles-Anderson College has a right to continue to live only as long as it stays under the thumb of the First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana.

For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall say, Because Jam not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, Because l am not the eye, I am not of the body, is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him. And if they were all one member, where were the body? But now are they many members, yet but one body. And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary: And those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness. I Corinthians 12:13-23

What does it mean by one spirit? Are we all baptized into one body? He is talking to the church at Corinth, and telling them that the Holy Spirit immersed them into that church.

People like to say that we should go to the church of “our choice.” That is not right. We should go to the church of the Holy Spirit’s choice. The Holy Spirit is supposed to lead us where we go. People choose to leave churches for the wrong reasons. The Holy Spirit puts us into the body. The ekklesia, or called-out assembly, is His body. He purchased that body with His own blood. The Holy Spirit will show us what body we are to go to and will immerse us into that body.

Each of us has our own place in the body. Each part of the body has a particular function. Each part is important to the overall functioning of the body. No part should look at another part as being of less importance. I cannot say to the PA man, “I have no need of you.” I cannot say to the organist and pianist, “I have no need of you.” I cannot say to the custodians, “I have no need of you.” Each of us has been placed there by God. That means that it is important that we be where God wants us to be. We have need of every single person in the church. Every person in a church needs every other person in a church. God has put us there.

The part of the body which is the weakest is the one that needs our attention the most. If you cut your finger, you will suddenly pay more attention to that finger. In the church we want to cut off the finger. If a member backslides, we cut him off. We treat him as if he were not worthy to be in the body. None of us is worthy to be in the body.

When a part of the body is less attractive to us, we should give the most attention to that part to help make it more attractive. We should not ignore it. We do not need to pamper the part that is working right. We need to pamper the part that is not working right.

That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it. Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular. And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues. Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles? Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret? But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way. I Corinthians 12:25-3 1

We have been influenced by this invisible church idea. We need to get back to the fact that the local ekklesia is the called-out assembly, and that all believers have never been a called-out assembly. All believers are not members of the church. If people are going to be reached, it will be through the ministry of local churches.

The military of this country is a good example. When a man joins the army, he does not go visit a camp in North Carolina this week, a camp in Wyoming the next week, and then a camp in Virginia the next week. No. They put him in a working unit, and that unit is a body of soldiers that belongs to the United States Government. It is the body of the army, and the individual fighting unit. If you allowed soldiers to go where they want to go, you would never win a war. Men are placed in a division, in a battalion of that division, in a company of that battalion, in a platoon of that company, and in a squad of that platoon. That is the way you win battles, and that is the way you win wars.

The church is God’s institution, for which Christ died. He purchased it to be His body. It is that body to whom He has given the responsibility to take the blessed Book and spread His message to a lost and dying world. That is the way to get the job done by being a part of the local body, called the church, for which He died.

THE BODY OF CHRIST – by Watchman Nee

Scripture Reading: Eph. 1:23; 4:11-13; 5:29-30; Gen. 2:21-24; 1 Cor. 10:16-17; 12:12-30; Rom. 12:4-8

Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.  (Ephesians 1:23)

And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: (Ephesians 4:11-13)

For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. (Ephesians 5:29-30)

And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh. (Genesis 2:21-24)

The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread. (1 Corinthians 10:16-17)

For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him. And if they were all one member, where were the body? But now are they many members, yet but one body. And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary: And those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness. For our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked: That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it. Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular. And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues. Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles? Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret?

(1 Corinthians 12:12-30)

For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; Or ministry, let us wait on our ministering: or he that teacheth, on teaching; Or he that exhorteth, on exhortation: he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness. (Romans 12:4-8)

 

 

I. THE CHURCH BEING OF CHRIST

Genesis 2 shows us that God took a rib from Adam and made Eve out of it. This typifies the relationship between Christ and the church. Just as Eve came out of Adam, the church comes out of Christ. God made Eve out of Adam. Likewise, He created the church out of Christ. God gave us not only the grace, power, and nature of Christ, but He also gave us the Body of Christ. God has given us His bones, His flesh, and Himself, even as He gave Adam’s rib to Eve. What then is the church? The church comes out of Christ. The Bible shows us that Christ is the Head of the church and the church is the Body of Christ. Individually speaking, every Christian is a member of the Body of Christ and comes out of Christ.

There is one thing we must take note of: The Body of Christ is on earth, but it is not earthly. It is heavenly, yet it is on earth. When Saul was persecuting the church, on his way to Damascus, the Lord Jesus asked him, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” (Acts 9:4). The Lord’s word was quite strange. He did not say, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting My disciples,” but “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” He did not say, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting My church,” but “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” This showed Paul that the church and Christ are one. The church is one with Christ, so much so that when a man persecutes the church he is persecuting Christ. This shows us also that the Body of Christ is on earth, because no one could persecute it if it were in heaven. The Body of Christ is on earth. Therefore, Paul could persecute it. Because the Body of Christ is the church on earth, Paul’s persecuting of the church was his persecuting of the Lord Himself. Many people say that the manifestation of the Body of Christ is something that will occur in heaven. They say that one has to wait until he is in heaven before he can see the manifestation of the Body. If this were the case, Paul’s persecution of the church could not have been considered as his persecution of the Lord. The Lord said that Saul persecuted Him when he persecuted the church. Therefore, the Body of Christ is manifested on earth, not in heaven. The church as the Body of Christ is on earth. We have to express this Body while we are on earth. Although the Head is in heaven, the Body and the Head are one. The Body on earth and the Head in heaven are one. To persecute the Body is to persecute the Head. To persecute the church is to persecute the Lord. The two are one, and there is no way to separate them.

Some may ask, “How could the Body of Christ be expressed on earth during Paul’s time? From the time Paul was on earth until now, one thousand nine hundred years have passed. Every year countless numbers of people throughout the world are saved and added to the Body of Christ. Many more will be added in the coming days and years. How could the church at Paul’s time be called the Body of Christ?” One brother in the last century gave a good answer. He said that the church is like a bird. When it first hatched, the feathers were not well developed. Yet we can say that it was a bird. When it becomes full grown, we still say that it is a bird. Feathers from elsewhere are not added to the bird; they grow from the bird itself. The growth and maturity of the bird are the result of the inward activities of the bird’s life. This is how the church grows on earth today. Although Paul persecuted the church in its infancy, it was nevertheless the Body of Christ. From that time on until today, nothing has been added to it; it has only become more full grown.

Although the church on earth today is still very small in size, it is nevertheless perfect within. The growth of the church issues from within itself. It grows out of Christ. The church on earth today is the Body of Christ. Apparently, saved ones are being added to the church. But as far as its spiritual reality is concerned, no one has ever joined the church. The Body of Christ grows by itself from within. It grows continually out of the Head. The church is simply the extension of the Body of Christ on earth. The church dwells on earth but comes out of the heavenly Head. At the same time, it is a Body in oneness with the Head.

We must be clear about what the church is in the eyes of God. The church is the Body of Christ. Therefore, anything smaller than the Body cannot be the basis for the formation of a church. We cannot establish a church based on doctrines, systems, or rituals. Neither can we establish a church based on the name of a founder or a place of origin. All these are smaller than the Body of Christ. If we want to start a church in a locality, we must learn to stand on the ground of the Body. We must welcome and accept all the members who have fellowship in the Body of Christ. Whoever is in the Body and of the Body is a brother or sister in the church. If we stand in the position of the Body of Christ, our number may be small, but we will still have a proper basis for forming the church. However, if we do not stand on the position of the Body of Christ, we will have no basis to form any church, even though our number may be very great.

Once a church which takes the Body of Christ as its basis is established in a locality, no one should separate himself to set up another church under the pretense of differences in doctrines, views, or opinions. The basis of the church is the Body of Christ. The desire to uphold a certain doctrine is not a justifiable basis for forming a church. If the basis of the first “church” is not the Body of Christ, one can, of course, set up a church that is based on the Body of Christ. But if the basis of the first church is indeed the Body of Christ, we must fellowship with it. We cannot walk away and form another “church” of our own.

A local church should include all the children of God in that locality. The church takes the Body of Christ as its basic unit. If other brothers and sisters will not come, that is their own concern. But the church should not impose any condition upon anyone other than the need to acknowledge the Body. The Body is the only condition for forming a church. A church cannot be smaller than the Body of Christ. In other words, whoever is of Christ should be in the church; whoever is in the Body of Christ may not be rejected.

However, to accept anyone who is not in the Body of Christ or to embrace unbelievers is to go beyond the Body of Christ. That would no longer be the church of Christ; it would be an organization of confusion. In conclusion, whatever falls short of the Body of Christ or goes beyond the Body of Christ is not the church.

II. THE CHURCH BEING ONE IN THE HOLY SPIRIT

First Corinthians 12:12-13 says, ” For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.”

We have seen that the church comes out of Christ. Now we want to see how the church is one in the Holy Spirit.

The church comes out of Christ. This speaks of its origin. Every Christian possesses a new life. The one life of Christ has become millions of Christians. John 12 speaks of a grain of wheat which falls into the ground and dies and bears much fruit. All the grains which are produced from the one grain have the same essence as the original grain. One grain has become many grains, and the many grains come out of that one grain. How then can the many Christians who possess the same life become the one Body of Christ? This is where the work of the Holy Spirit comes in. The one Christ has become millions of Christians. Now the Holy Spirit baptizes these millions of Christians into one Body. This is the fundamental teaching recorded in 1 Corinthians 12:12-13. The Body is one, yet it is composed of many members. How can the many members become one Body? “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body.” In other words, this Body comes into being through baptism. Through baptism in the Spirit, the many Christians are immersed into one Body. Every Christian is like a piece of stone hewn out of a big rock. The Holy Spirit is like the cement which cements the stones back together to become one rock.

The Body of Christ has two basic principles: First, apart from that which comes out of Christ, there is no Body of Christ; second, apart from the operation of the Holy Spirit, there is no Body of Christ. There must first be the baptism of the Spirit and the infilling of the Spirit; God’s children must all be baptized by the Spirit in order to become the Body. This was what happened at Pentecost in Acts 2. Many had received the Lord’s life and had become His many members. Then the Lord baptized these many members through the Holy Spirit into one Body. Those who know the Lord and the Holy Spirit also will know this one Body. There are many members in the human body, but the head rules over them all through the nerves. Likewise, the Head of the church joins the many members into one Body through the Holy Spirit.

The church is out of Christ, and it is formed into one Body in the Holy Spirit. Christian fellowship and communion should be based on one’s standing in the Body of Christ. We have no relationship other than this relationship. We are not bound together because we are Jews or Greeks. We commune with one another because we are all members of the Body of Christ. Our communion with one another is based on the Body.

There is only one basis for our fellowship in the church—our being fellow members with one another in the Body. We cannot have any fellowship that is based on any other foundation. Any fellowship outside the Body of Christ is a division. Any fellowship that is not as large as the Body, that is in fact smaller than the Body, is not the fellowship of the Body. Any boundary that is different from the boundary of the Body, though it may not contradict the boundary of the Body, is a hindrance to the Body boundary. Such a variation in boundary will always hinder the fellowship of the Body. We cannot accept any fellowship that is different from the Body. We are here to maintain the fellowship of Christians, the fellowship of the Body, not any fellowship that is smaller than the Body.

III. SERVICE IN THE BODY

First Corinthians 12:14-21 says, “For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him. And if they were all one member, where were the body? But now are they many members, yet but one body. And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you.” Verses 28 through 30 go on to say, “And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues. Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles? Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret?”

There are many members in the Body of Christ, and the Holy Spirit dispenses all kinds of gifts and ministries to them according to the need of the Body. The Lord grants the members different kinds of gifts and ministries for the purpose of supplying the need of the whole Body. The Lord knows that He will not make the whole Body the eyes or the whole Body the ears. The Lord gives the members different gifts and ministries to supply the whole Body. As the human body needs all the members, so the church needs the different kinds of gifts and ministries for its spiritual service. Some serve in the ministry of the word. Some serve by performing works of power. Some exercise the gift of healing. Some render helps. Some speak in tongues and some interpret tongues, etc. The church must provide ample opportunity for all the brothers and sisters to serve. All the members, including the uncomely ones, are useful in the ministry of the Spirit. It is impossible to have a useless member in the Body. Every brother and sister is a member in the Body and every member has his or her function and service. As long as you are a Christian, you are a member of the Body of Christ, and as a member in the Body, you must have your own service before God. We must honor such a practice of universal service. Every Christian must have his or her respective function and must serve the Lord according to this function.

Every member in the church should find a place to serve. Everyone should serve and there should not be any monopoly. A member or a few members should not replace all the members in doing everything. Any system that does not provide opportunity for all the members to function is surely not of the Body. In the physical body, the eyes, the mouth, the feet, and the hands may all be very busy. Yet they do not contradict each other. Something is wrong if only the eyes function while the mouth, feet, and hands do not. If the eyes, mouth, feet, and hands all function together and coordinate as one entity, we have the body. If some serve and others do not or if only one or a few serve, we do not have the Body of Christ. We must be very clear about this principle.

Romans 12:4-8 says, “For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; Or ministry, let us wait on our ministering: or he that teacheth, on teaching; Or he that exhorteth, on exhortation: he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness.”

Another matter which requires special attention in the Body is that both the grace and the gift that everyone receives are different. The passage in 1 Corinthians 12 emphasizes the ministry of the word and the miraculous gifts. The passage in Romans 12, in addition to speaking of the ministry of the word, includes ministries of other services in the church as well. Some give, some lead, and some show mercy. All these can be considered works of the Levites. They are services that pertain to practical affairs.

Romans 12 shows us that everyone who is gifted must function according to the gift which God has given him, whether it is in the ministry of the word or in the ministry of service. He who prophesies, let him prophesy. He who serves, let him serve. He who teaches, let him teach. He who exhorts, let him exhort. He who leads, let him lead diligently in the church. In other words, everyone should serve. Everyone should have his or her specific service and should be faithful to this function. Everyone should know what he can do before God and what gift he has received from the Lord. This knowledge should direct him to function in a specific way. No one should go beyond his own function to take over the service of others. No member should take the place of another member, and no member should relinquish his own function. All should serve together, and everyone should fully apply himself to his own work. In this way the Body of Christ will be expressed.

The Body cannot allow one member to neglect his duty. The whole Body is in darkness if the eyes do not see. The whole Body cannot walk if the feet refuse to walk. The eyes should see and the feet should walk. Even though the gift that you have received from God may be small, you should not hide your gift. Even if the gift you have received from God is just one talent (Matt. 25:14-30), you should not keep it or neglect it. Whether one’s gift is big or small, whether it is “five talents,” “two talents,” or “one talent,” he should exercise what he has and serve accordingly. If he refuses to give himself to his service and instead buries his “one talent,” the church will suffer. If a few members in the Body refuse to function, the Body will suffer great loss.

It is not easy to find five-talented ones in the church. Yet every child of God, no matter how small his gift may be, has at least one talent. If all the one-talented ones will rise up to serve, they will be more effective than the few who have five talents. If all the one-talented ones will rise up to serve, the church will surely flourish. All those with one talent should rise up to serve. Whether or not the church will prosper depends on whether the one-talented ones will rise up to serve. If only a few people are laboring and working, we do not have the church. If all the brothers and sisters are working and laboring, it will be the church serving and the Body functioning. A few members no longer will take over the function of the whole Body. We hope everyone who has “one talent” will dig out his talent from the earth. Everyone who has the “mina” should realize that the handkerchief is for wiping sweat, not for wrapping up his mina (Luke 19:20). We must learn to serve according to our ability. When everyone rises up to serve and no one passes his responsibility to someone else, we have the church.

IV. THE BUILDING UP OF THE BODY

Ephesians 4:11-13 says, ” And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: ”

The kinds of people spoken of here are slightly different from those spoken of in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12. The people here are all ministers of the word. God’s intention in giving the church these ministers of the word is for the building up of the Body of Christ. The ministers of the word have a special place in the building up of the Body of Christ. For the building up of the Body of Christ, we should ask God for more ministers of the word.

At the same time, the church should provide ample opportunities for new believers to manifest themselves, to see whether they are ministers of the word. We should not hinder the gifts that God has given them. We should not take away their opportunity to manifest themselves as ministers of the word. For the Body of Christ to be built up, the church must ask God for more ministers of the word. It must also provide ample opportunities for each one to manifest himself as a minister of the word.

V. THE TESTIMONY OF THE BODY

First Corinthians 10:16-17 says, “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread.”

The church is the Body of Christ. Therefore, its mission on earth is to express this Body and to manifest the oneness of this Body. It should show everyone that the Body is one. The church does not need to wait until it is in heaven before expressing the oneness of the Body. It expresses the oneness of the Body while it is here on earth.

“For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread.” In the New Testament the breaking of bread is a very important matter. Whenever we come on the Lord’s Day to break bread and remember the Lord, we acknowledge that the Lord has broken His body for us. We also express that the Body is one. The breaking of bread signifies the Lord’s giving of Himself in love on the cross for us; the oneness speaks of the union among God’s children. Every Lord’s Day we come to the Lord to acknowledge that His body was broken for us and that all of God’s children are one. On the one hand, we testify that the Lord’s body was broken for us. On the other hand, we testify that the church is the Body of Christ and that this Body is one. We who are many are one bread and one Body. We express this oneness. Whoever understands the Body of Christ renders this testimony on the Lord’s Day. On this day he testifies that there is only one bread. In the eyes of God, this bread is the center of all the meetings. God’s children should gather together for the purpose of breaking bread and fellowshipping with one another. The more one understands the Body of Christ, the more he will testify of the oneness of the Body through the breaking of bread. The breaking of bread is a remembrance of the Lord’s death, and it is an expression of the oneness of the Body. “For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread.” We do this to show the world, the universe, and the whole creation that the church is one Body!

May the Lord be gracious to us, and may He show us clearly that the basis for forming the church is the Body of Christ. We are members one of another in the Body. Through the baptism of the Spirit, we are constituted as one Body. Thus our fellowship should be based only on the Body of Christ. In the Body every member has its function and every member should serve. We should ask God for more ministers of the word on behalf of the church, ministers who will perfect the saints to the work of the ministry unto the building up of the Body of Christ. We should also express the testimony of the oneness of this Body through the breaking of bread. May God bless all of us!

 

Jesus and the Church – By Jack Hyles

When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am? And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets. He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall riot prevail against it. Matthew 16:13-18

It is amazing how we accept things as true just because we have always heard them taught a certain way. For example, most people have always heard that the church is the body of Christ. We have been taught that Christ is the head of all Christians and that all Christians form His body. The Bible does not mean it in that way. Much of this has come from the Scofield Bible. It is not true, and I am going to show you that in this chapter. If you believe the Bible, you will understand exactly what the church is all about.

1. Jesus is the founder of the church. The church was not founded on Pentecost. The Bible says in Acts 2 that they added to the church those that were saved. You cannot add to something that is not there. I do not know how long the church was there, but it was there before Matthew 18, where it speaks of taking something to the church. Mr. Scofield says that is the future church, but God does not say that. You cannot take something to a future church. You can take something only to a present church.

And when he had called unto him his twelve disciples, he gave them power against unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease. Matthew 10:1

Whenever the church was started, it was started with a called-out assembly. The first place in the Bible where I find such a statement is in Matthew 10:1. I feel the church was started here or before here. I know it was started some time in the personal ministry of Jesus Christ.

2. Jesus is the foundation of the church.

And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. Matthew 16:18

The rock he was speaking about was not the pope. The church was not built on the Pope. The church was built on the foundation of Jesus. Jesus was the rock being referred to, not Peter. The word Peter means little pebble. The word rock means a strong. big rock. They are not the same word. Peter was a little pebble, but the rock is Jesus.

3. Jesus is its builder.

He said, upon this rock I will build my church. Our job is not church growth. Our job is soul winning. Jesus said that He would build the church. Jesus is in the church-building business. He never told us to build a church. He told us to go soul winning, and He would do the building of His church. We are witnesses. He never told us to go into all the world and build churches. Our job is to obey the Great Commission and His job is to build the church.

4. Jesus attended it, and sang and preached in it.

But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man. For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings. For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren, Saying, I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church will! sing praise unto thee. Hebrews 2:9-12

We see here that Jesus went to church. He was quoting from an Old Testament prophesy by saying that He would declare God’s name in the church. Luke 4 says that it was Jesus custom to go to the synagogue on the Sabbath Day. He was in a habit of going. When He went to the cross all the things attached to the synagogue were nailed to the cross with Him. In the place of the synagogue He gave us the local church.

Jesus preached in the church. I am not talking necessarily about a church building. They may have met under a tree, in a barn, or in a house, as they often did in the Bible. But, the fact remains that Jesus went to church and preached in the church. Jesus also said that He was going to sing God’s praises in the church.

Did Jesus need to go to church? Absolutely. The Bible says He emptied himself of deity and became a man. He did what He did, not as God, but as man. Otherwise, He could not have been our pattern. Jesus needed to go to church because He was a man. It was not to keep Him from sinning, but for encouragement and fellowship, the same reasons we need to go to church.

5. Jesus is to be preeminent in the church.

And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the first born from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence. Colossians 1:18

Jesus must have the preeminence in every organization of the church. He is to have the preeminence in the preaching. He is to have the preeminence in the singing. I believe that songs about Jesus should be sung in the church, rather than the high-brow anthems that are used in so many circles today. Jesus is to have the preeminence in the Christian school. Jesus is to have the preeminence in the Women’s Missionary Society. Jesus is to have the preeminence in the bus ministry. Jesus is to preeminent in all of the ministries of the church.

6. Jesus is the head of the church.

And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, Which is his body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all. Ephesians 1:22, 23

And he is the head of the body, the church … Colossians 1:18a

Jesus is the head of the body. The church is the body of Christ. The word head is similar to the President of a business. It means that it is his body in the sense of ownership or control, not in the sense of being a physical body. The word head means authority. He is the authority of the church. He is the head of the church like the owner of a store is the head of that store. The church is a body of people that belongs to him.

If the body of Christ is all believers, then the church is all believers, but the church cannot be all believers, because the word church means a called-out assembly. All believers are never called out, so the church could not be His body in that sense. There will be a day when all Christians will be a member of the church, but that will not be until all Christians are called out. Hebrews 12:23 refers to a host assembled in Heaven. All believers will not be the church until all believers are raptured.

And I stood upon the sand of the sea, and saw a beast rise up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns… Revelation 13:la

That word head is the same word found in Colossians 1:18 and Ephesians 1:22 where Jesus is called the head of the church. These heads are kings. A king has authority. A king is the head of his nation and the people which they control form the body. These kings are called the head just like Jesus is called the head of the church.

And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power: Colossians 2:10

Jesus is the head of all principality and power. That is referring to governments and rulers. Jesus puts up kings and sets down kings. Jesus is the head of all of the governments and all government leaders in this world. They cannot do anything that God does not allow them to do.

He is called the head of principalities and powers just like He is the head of the church. He is listing something over which He has control. The world’s governments no more make up His body, then Christians do. It merely signifies authority. He is the authority of the church, and He is the authority over the world’s leaders.

Wives submit yourselves to your own husbands as under the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife. Ephesians 5:22, 23

A man is the head of his wife, but that does not mean she is his body. It means that he is the authority of the home. This is not talking about a male head on a female body. As the husband is the head of the wife, so is Christ the head of the church. What does it mean? As the wife obeys her husband, so the church is to obey Christ. He is the head or the authority. In that sense Jesus is the head of the church and the church is His body. Consequently, the church cannot be an invisible church of all believers because the body is the church and the church is a called-out assembly.

This doctrine of all believers being members of the body of Christ is an attempt by Satan to unite us with people with whom we are commanded not to unite. It is an effort to say that we are all members of this body when, in reality, we are not.

7. Jesus is building a church.

But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, To the general assembly and church of the first born, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect. And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel. Hebrews 12:22-24

All believers will be called out and assembled in the sky. They will be called unto Jesus, and then all believers will become a church. God is now in the process of building an army of people which someday will become a church.

Let me give you three extreme positions regarding this issue.

1. That the church is the bride of Christ. Some men teach what we call the doctrine of the Baptist Bride. They believe that the only people who will be a part of the bride at the marriage of the Lamb will be Baptists, and all other saved people will merely be wedding guests. Of course, that is not true. These people get the body mixed up with the bride. The bride will not be a bride until we get there, so it will include all believers. The future church will be the bride. The present church is not the bride; it is the body.

They are also wrong because many Baptist churches are liberal. How can all Baptists form the bride when there are hundreds of American Baptist churches that do not even believe that the Bible is the Word of God. There are some churches that do not call themselves Baptist which are New Testament churches. If Baptists form the bride, these New Testament churches will not be in the bride. So, according to them, a liberal American Baptist church would be in the bride, but a fundamental church that is not Baptist will not be in the bride. That is totally untrue.

2. The term the rapture of the church is unscriptural.

We will not become a church until we assemble in the sky. At the rapture we will form a church because then we will assemble, but right now all believers are not yet a church.

3. All believers do not belong to the church. Somebody needs to set Baptists straight and stop them from being influenced by the inter-denominational crowd. I am not opposed to inter-denominational Christians, but I am opposed to their doctrine about the church. In the average inter-denominational school, many of those who are preparing for full-time Christian work are studying to start orphanages, or to be missionary pilots, or to do Christian drama or Christian movies.

At Hyles-Anderson College we are training men to start churches. We are training young women to go out and teach in the Christian schools started by those churches. We are training young men to go out and lead the singing and be bus directors in those churches. That is the hope for America.

The Purpose of Going to Church

Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for the fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. And when he had so said, he shewed unto them his hands and his side. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord. Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost:

Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.

And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst and said, Peace be unto you. John 20:19-23, 26

Not many people know the true reason why Jesus started the church. Let me give a couple of things which are not legitimate reasons, even though most people think they are.

1. The church was not started to be a place of worship.

You can worship God better alone than you can with others. You can also pray better alone than you can with others. When two people pray together, their prayers will too often be designed to impress each other. Every Christian should worship God in the beauty of His holiness. We should adore Him, worship Him, magnify Him, and honor Him. The idea that the church is a place to worship God came from Rome, not from the New Testament. There is only one place in the New Testament where the word worship is connected to a public service, and that deals with worshipping the Devil. There is no example in the entire New Testament of a Christian worship service.

God told the people in Amos 5:21-23, 1 hate, I despise your feast days, and! will not smell in your solemn assemblies…. I will not accept them…. Take thou away from me the noise of thy songs…. The church was not made to be a place of worship.

2. Jesus did not start the church as a place of evangelism. The evangelistic church is not in the Bible. The soul-winning church is. I am not against people getting saved at church, nor am I against an occasional evangelistic sermon. But, that is not the main purpose of the church, nor was it why the church was started. The New Testament church was a soul-winning institution where all of the members won people to Jesus.

And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ. Acts 5:42

Some people believe that the New Testament church won the lost in the church and in house-to-house soul winning. That is half true. They did go house-to-house soul winning. The temple, however, was not the church, nor did they have church in the temple. The temple was the location of the big gala occasion when they had their feasts and when all of the people would gather in Jerusalem. The temple was also the place where they conducted their daily business. It was like our business district. This was not talking about witnessing in church, but about witnessing in public places as well as in people’s homes.

And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles. Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word. Acts 8:1, 4

They witnessed everywhere. There was no place they did not go. The jail is part of everywhere. Downtown is part of everywhere. The street corner is part of everywhere. Rest homes are a part of everywhere. Neighborhoods are a part of everywhere. The homes where the poor, the lame, the halt, and the blind live are parts of everywhere. The New Testament church was not an evangelistic church. It was a soul-winning church, and they went everywhere doing so.

And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. Mark 16:15

Jesus gave the Great Commission on several occasions. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Acts all give different phrasings of the Great Commission. That does not mean that Jesus spoke it only one time, and that each of them gave it in their own words. They each quoted Jesus. He did not just give it once. One of those times was quoted in Mark. It is not talking about standing behind a pulpit and preaching. It is not directed to a congregation. It is directed to every creature.

An evangelistic church is where a preacher gets up and preaches on salvation. I am not against that, but it is not why the church was started. The evangelism was not to be done at the church. Soul winning was to be done where the people were.

Paul said For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ and him crucified. Some preachers take that as a mandate to preach on nothing except Jesus. That is not true. Paul wrote Timothy and said, Preach the word, but he said something else. He said to exhort. He said to rebuke. Sometimes the preacher is to preach the Word. Sometimes he is to be lovingly stern and rebuke. Sometimes he is to give advice, or exhort. God wants more than just the plan of salvation preached in the church.

Jesus said in Matthew to teach all nations. That word in Matthew is the Greek word “ethnos” which means ethnics or races. Mark 16:15 says, to go into all the world. The word kosmosis the word arrangement. When Jesus started the church, he started a soul-winning church. Soul winning was not the purpose of the church, it was the fruit of the church and the result of the church.

In the first century the local churches were soul-winning churches. They were scattered abroad everywhere with everybody preaching or soul winning. Peter did not preach the evangelistic sermon on Pentecost as many think. The Bible says that every nation under Heaven was represented at Pentecost and every man heard the Gospel. Many people were doing the soul winning. It was not just Peter. I am not against having an evangelistic service, but that was not why Jesus started the church, nor was it the way the New Testament church operated.

In the first century, our churches were soul-winning churches. The people came to church for the real purpose of the church. Then they went out from the church and won folks to Christ in the public places and neighborhoods and brought them back to church. Something happened shortly after the early church. The churches became evangelistic rather than soul winning. What is the difference?

A soul-winning church is where the people go out and win them and bring them back in to make a public profession.

An evangelistic church is where you invite sinners to come and the preacher tries to get them saved through his preaching. There is nothing wrong with that except the people go unfed.

For 1900 years the soul-winning church was lost.

In our generation the soul-winning church has been rediscovered. The First Baptist Church of Hammond has had a big part in that. All across America preachers are baptizing more converts than Spurgeon did. I am not nearly the preacher Spurgeon was, but First Baptist Church is a better church than Spurgeon had because we discovered the soul-winning church instead of the evangelistic church.

Evangelists have been being forced to change their ministries.

And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Ephesians 4:11, 12

The word perfecting means maturing. God gave apostles for the maturing of the saints. God gave prophets for the maturing of the saints. God gave evangelists for the maturing of the saints. God gave pastors and teachers for the maturing of the saints. All these were given for the perfecting of the saints for the work of the ministry. Every saint is commanded to do the work of the ministry. Every Christian is commanded to be a soul-winner. It is the evangelist’s job to mature the Christians so they will better do the work of the ministry.

For many years evangelists were men who traveled across the country and preached revival meetings. These were actually evangelistic crusades, and they basically preached on salvation. I believe that God raised them up, but I do not believe that God had this in mind for the New Testament church. Evangelists were given for the perfecting or maturing of the saints, so the saints could do the work of the ministry. Nobody in the New Testament went around preaching to great crowds of people in churches just to get people saved. They taught, exhorted, rebuked, and perfected them so that the saints could do the work of the ministry.

I am not against the evangelists who went into churches and preached on Heaven, Hell, salvation, the great white throne judgment, etc. Thank God for them, but they had to do it because churches were not doing the job of soul winning. God raised up these evangelists to go to churches and get people saved.

In our day, the evangelist is a preacher who does more of what the Bible says he is to do, the perfecting of the saints. We have lived in the age of the rediscovery of the soul-winning church.

Let us now look at the reasons for the starting of the church.

1. The church was started for comfort.

Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and said unto them, Peace be unto you. John 20:19

These people went to church because they were scared. That is one reason Jesus started the church. It was the place they could receive comfort in the midst of persecution.

Jesus met in the upper room the night that he was betrayed. (John 13 & 14) From there He went to the garden of Gethsemane where he was betrayed that night. It was on Wednesday that our Lord was crucified, so the church meets on Wednesday. Sunday was the day that our Lord rose from the dead, so the church meets on Sunday.

It had to be a church that met in the upper room because they had the Lord’s Supper, which was given by the local church. It was also in the upper room that they met when He rose from the dead. (John 20:19 & 26) Consequently, they came to church for comfort. Our Saviour met with the apostles and said: Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. He was comforting them.

The church is a place to dispel the fears of the people. When somebody comes with an incurable disease, the church is supposed to help him dispel his fear. When people have a fear of financial reversal, the church is to help dispel their fear. The reason they assembled in the upper room was for the fear of the Jews. Coming together gave them more courage and strength than being alone.

2. It is a place for encouragement. Often people will not come to church because they have problems or because they are discouraged. That is why the church was started. That is why we are supposed to come. When you want to be alone is usually when you do not need to be alone. That is the time we most need to be in church.

Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching. Hebrews 10:25

That means we are not to forsake the churching of ourselves together. It is especially true as we see the second coming of Jesus Christ coming closer. Why? Because there is a certain element of fear there. You come to church to be comforted in the fact that we are all going up together. When we come to church we get encouraged.

For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment; And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool: Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts? James 2:2-4

There is one place in this world where a poor child can go and be just as important as the children of the Pastor, the deacons or the Sunday school teachers. The church is a place of encouragement for those who are looked down upon or despised in this world.

3. It is a place to give tithes to God.

Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye. Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in the store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when! come. I Corinthians 16:1

They tithed on the first day of the week, which is when they went to church. Sundays we are to bring our tithes and offerings to the church as well. The tithe or tenth is the smallest portion given in the Bible. Consequently, we go to church to give.

4. It is a place for maturing.

And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: Ephesians 4:11-15

The body of Christ is the local New Testament church. He owns it. God has given us the church, so that every time someone tries to deceive us with a false doctrine, we will not fall prey to the error. God has given us the church in order for us to become mature. He wants us to grow up. That is what it is all about. We are to come to church to mature. We will never outgrow the church. The church is there to help us to grow up. The preacher is there to help us grow up. The evangelist is there to help us to grow up. The quickest way to be deceived by false doctrines is to become unfaithful to church.

5. It is a place for inspiration to go soul winning.

And when they were assembled with the elders

Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them. And when they saw him, they worshipped him: but some doubted. And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All powers is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever! have commanded you: Matthew 28:12, 16-20a

The church is to inspire and instill in us the importance of going soul winning. Most people will never walk inside the church, but we can go to them. Most people where we work will never walk inside our church, but we can take the message where they are. As a pastor, I am to inspire everybody to go soul winning. Four thousand people go soul winning from First Baptist Church every week. I am not satisfied with that. I want everybody to go soul winning every week. It is not the preacher’s job to preach the unsaved down the aisle. It is the preacher’s job to preach and inspire the individual Christians to go soul winning. That is God’s plan.

6. It is a place for fellowship, to take the Lord’s supper, to learn the Bible and to learn how to pray.

Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added to them about three thousand souls. And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. Acts 2:41, 42

The word fellowship means communion. It is not referring to the typical fellowship of the church. It is referring to a communing in Christ with one another. It is a place where we share a “God Bless You” and “1 am praying for you” as we unite in the work of God. It is a place for the breaking of bread in the Lord’s Supper as we remember together the price Jesus paid for us on Calvary.

These are the real reasons for the church. When we get away from these, the church fails to do that which we were called by the Saviour to do, and we look to church to be something different than what God ordained it to be.

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THE PRIESTHOOD

The Bible speaks of the ministry of the priesthood. This ministry consists of a group of people wholly separated from the world to serve God. They have no other occupation or duty other than to serve God. Such people are called priests in the Bible.

I. THE HISTORY OF THE PRIESTHOOD IN THE BIBLE

Beginning from the book of Genesis, we find God calling men to be priests. Melchisedec was God’s first priest. In Abraham’s time, Melchisedec separated himself and gave himself solely to God’s service.

A. From Genesis to the Period after the Lord’s Ascension

From Genesis to the forming of the nation of Israel and thereafter, the priesthood was always present. At the time the Lord Jesus was on earth and even after His departure from the earth, the priesthood did not cease. The priesthood has been on earth for a long time. The Bible shows us that even the Lord Jesus became a priest before God after His ascension to the heavens. He is there now fully consecrated for God’s service.

B. In the Dispensation of the Church

The priesthood continues throughout the dispensation of the church; there is no interruption of any kind.

C. In the Millennial Kingdom

At the beginning of the millennial kingdom, those who share in the first resurrection will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years (Rev. 20:6). God’s children will continue to be God’s priests and Christ’s priests for a thousand years. They will be kings to the world and priests to God. This priesthood will remain unchanged; they will still serve God.

D. In the New Heavens and New Earth

In the new heavens and new earth, the term priest will cease to exist. At that time, all of God’s children as His servants will do nothing except serve Him. In the New Jerusalem “and his servants shall serve him:” (22:3). In other words, God’s children will continue to serve Him.

Here we must point out a most wonderful thing. The priesthood commenced with Melchisedec, the one who was without father, without mother, without genealogy, who had neither beginning of days nor end of life (Heb. 7:3), and it extends to the end of the millennium, which means that it extends to eternity.

II. THE KINGDOM OF PRIESTS BECOMING THE HOUSE OF PRIESTS

According to the revelation of the Scripture, God’s purpose is not to have only one or two persons as His priests. His purpose is to have all His people as His priests.

A. God Choosing the Israelites to Be a Kingdom of Priests

After the Israelites came out of Egypt, they came to Mount Sinai. God charged Moses to speak to the Israelites, saying, “And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation.” (Exo. 19:6). God told the Israelites that they would be a kingdom of priests. This expression is somewhat difficult to understand. Why did God say that they would be a kingdom of priests? He meant that He wanted the whole nation to be priests. No one in the nation would be an ordinary person; the whole kingdom would be priests. This was God’s purpose.

When God chose Israel to be His people, He set this goal before them. This nation was to be different from all other nations on the earth. It was a kingdom of priests. All the people of this nation would be priests. This meant that every person in the nation would have one unique occupation, the occupation of serving God. God delights in separating men from the earth for His service. He delights in seeing men live solely for His affairs. God wants all of His children to be priests and to serve Him.

God told the people of Israel when they reached Mount Sinai that He would make them a kingdom of priests. This is a wonderful calling. We call England “the kingdom of the navy,” the United States, “the kingdom of gold,” China, “the kingdom of manners and virtues,” and India “the kingdom of philosophers.” But here is a kingdom which is called “the kingdom of priests.” This is a wonderful thing. Everyone in this nation is a priest. Men, women, adults, and children are all priests. Everyone in this kingdom serves only God. Both adults and children have only one thing as their occupation—offering sacrifices and serving God. This is a wonderful picture.

After God promised to establish Israel as a kingdom of priests, He told Moses to go up the mountain to receive the Ten Commandments which were written upon two tablets of stone. Moses remained on the mountain forty days while God wrote the Ten Commandments on the stone tablets. The first commandment says, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” The second says, “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image” (20:3-4). It seems that God was dictating the commandments one by one.

B. The Israelites Serving the Idols

While Moses was up on the mountain, the people at the foot of the mountain wondered about his delay. They said to Aaron, “Up, make us gods, which shall go before us” (32:1). Aaron succumbed to their words, collected gold, and made a golden calf. The people then worshipped the golden calf and said, “These be thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.” (v. 4).

They began to worship the idol. They sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play. They indulged in great celebration. At last they had found a visible golden god for themselves. The God that Moses taught was mysterious; one could not identify where He lived or where He could be located. Even Moses, the one who worshipped this God, was nowhere to be found. Now there was a visible golden calf which they could worship. God had appointed them to be priests, but even before they were able to be His priests, they became priests to the golden calf. God’s desire was for them to be a kingdom of priests. But even before they could do that, they had turned to idol worship and served the golden calf. They established other gods and other forms of worship apart from Jehovah their God.

This is man’s concept of God. Man always tries to make his own god and worship according to his own ways. Man likes to worship a god created by his own hands. He does not accept God’s sovereignty in His creation. He does not like to acknowledge Him as the Creator.

C. God Assigning the Priesthood to the Tribe of Levi

While Moses was on the mount, God told him to go down. Moses turned and went down with the two tablets of testimony, the Ten Commandments, in his hands. As he drew near to the camp and saw the condition of the people, his wrath waxed hot and he cast down the two tablets. Standing at the gate of the camp he said, “Who is on the Lord’s side? let him come unto me” (v. 26). All the sons of Levi gathered around him. He said to them, “Put every man his sword by his side, and go in and out from gate to gate throughout the camp, and slay every man his brother, and every man his companion, and every man his neighbor” (v. 27). Regardless of whom they saw, they had to kill them all. Because the people had worshipped the idol, the golden calf, those who were faithful had to draw their sword and slay them, no matter what kind of relationship they had with them.

Many people think that this order was too cruel. Who can slay his own brother? Who has the heart to kill his own friends? Eleven of the twelve tribes did not move. They felt that the cost was too high. As a result, only the tribe of Levi drew their swords, went to and fro from gate to gate throughout the camp, and slew about three thousand men on that day. Those slain were the brothers, relatives, and friends of the Levites.

Let us consider this a little. After the incident of the golden calf, God immediately told Moses that from that time on the nation of Israel could no longer be a kingdom of priests. Although nothing was said explicitly to that effect, God had reassigned the priesthood to the tribe of Levi alone. The priesthood was originally for the whole nation of Israel. Now, the priesthood was limited to the house of Aaron of the tribe of Levi.

D. God’s People and God’s Priests Becoming Two Separate Groups

From that time on, there were always two groups of people in the nation of Israel. One group were God’s people and the other were God’s priests. God’s original intention was for all His people to be His priests. God had no intention of separating His people from His priests. He wanted the whole nation to be a kingdom of priests. God’s people and God’s priests should have been one. Whoever were God’s people should have been His priests. As long as a person was one of God’s people, he should have been God’s priest. To be His people meant to be His priests. All His people were to be His priests. However, many loved the world and succumbed to human affection and turned away from faithfulness to worship the idol. As a result, God’s people and His priests became two separate groups. Henceforth, if a man did not love the Lord more than his father, mother, wife, children, brother, sister, and all, he became unfit to be a disciple of the Lord. Many could not meet this requirement or pay this price. From that day forward, the nation of Israel was divided into two groups—God’s people and His priests.

E. The Priesthood Becoming the Privilege of a Household

From that day forward, the kingdom of priests became a tribe of priests. The scope of the priesthood was reduced from a kingdom of priests to a household of priests. The priesthood became the matter of a household instead of a nation. God’s people and God’s priests were one and the same in the tribe of Levi; that is, His people were His priests. In regards to the other eleven tribes, God’s people were only God’s people; they could no longer be God’s priests. This was most serious. It is serious for a person to be a believer, one of God’s people, and yet not be a priest.

III. THE CHARACTERISTIC OF THE PRIESTHOOD—BEING A MEDIATORIAL CLASS

From Exodus until the time of the Lord Jesus on earth, no other tribe could function as priests except the tribe of Levi. They could not offer sacrifices to God. Their sacrifices had to be made through the priests. They could not even come to God to confess their sins; they had to confess them through the priests. They could not separate themselves from the world because they had no authority to touch the anointing oil. The priests alone could anoint and sanctify a person. All the spiritual services had to be carried out by the priests on their behalf.

One special characteristic about the Israelites in the Old Testament was that God was far away from them. Not everyone could contact Him. In the Old Testament we find the evolution of the priesthood, which I call an intermediary class. Man could not go to God directly. God’s people had to go through the priests before they could draw near to God. They could not commune with God directly. God came to man through the priests, and man also went to God through the priests. Between God and man, there was a mediatorial class. Man could not come directly to God, and God could not come directly to man. Between God and man there was a mediatorial class.

This class was not found in God’s original design. God’s original intention was to approach His people directly and for them to come to Him directly. But now there were three parties. The people had to come to God through the priests, and God had to approach His people through the priests. God and man could no longer commune with each other directly. All contact became indirect.

IV. THE CHANGE IN THE PRIESTHOOD

For about fifteen hundred years, from the time of Moses to the time of Christ, God’s people were unable to come directly to God. Only one household was qualified to be the priests. A man had to belong to this household to come to God. If he drew near to God directly, he would die. During that period, the ministry of the priests became a very powerful ministry. Man could not come to God directly; he needed the intercession of the priests. How noble and great the priestly ministry was! There was no way for man to come to God without the priests. But with the coming of the New Testament age, we find salvation and redemption reaching all men. Now we hear the word: “Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.” (1 Pet. 2:5).

A. Every Redeemed One Being a Priest in the New Testament Dispensation

In 1 Peter 2:4-7 Peter tells us that Christ is the foundation of the church. He was the stone rejected by the builders who has now become the head of the corner. We have become the living stones and are joined and built up to become a spiritual house. We also have become a holy priesthood to God. It is as if a voice from heaven burst forth announcing, “All who are saved are now God’s priests. All the living stones, those who are part of the spiritual house, are now priests of God.”

B. The Church Recovering the Universal Priesthood Again

Right then a promise which had been set aside for fifteen hundred years was recovered by God. What the Israelites lost has been recovered by the church. The universal priesthood was lost to Israel. In the New Testament age, it is as if a voice from heaven bursts forth with the promise that the universal priesthood is with us once more. All the saved ones are called to be priests.

C. The Church Being a Kingdom of Priests

The same word can be found in Revelation 1:6, which says, “And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.” Originally, the whole nation of Israel were priests. Later, this changed. But what about today? Today the church is a kingdom of priests. What the Israelites lost in the presence of the golden calf, the church has fully regained through the Lord Jesus. Today the entire church has become priests. God’s ordained kingdom of priests has now been fully restored.

D. The Unique Occupation of a Christian—Serving God

What God could not secure among the Israelites, He is now securing through the church. The church today is the kingdom of priests. The church is a priesthood. What does this mean? It means that everyone who has tasted God’s grace has only one occupation left, that of serving God. I have said this before to the young people: If a person is a doctor before he believes in the Lord, his occupation is medicine; if he is a nurse, his occupation is nursing; if he is a teacher, his occupation is teaching; if he is a farmer, his occupation is farming; if he is a businessman, his occupation is business. But the moment one becomes a Christian, his occupation completely changes. Every Christian has only one occupation—serving God. From the time we were saved, we became priests to God. Henceforth, we have to serve God in His presence. This is our lifelong spiritual goal.

Every Christian has only one occupation, that of serving God. A Christian doctor can no longer expect to make a name for himself as a famous doctor; his practice as a doctor is only useful in sustaining his living. His real occupation is to be a priest to God. A professor or a teacher can no longer strive to be a famous or outstanding academician. Rather, he must now strive to be a proper priest before God. His teaching becomes merely his vocation; his main occupation is to serve God. Craftsmen, businessmen, farmers, and all the other professionals are no longer living for their own professions. There is now only one profession for everyone, that of serving God.

E. Only One Ambition—Pleasing the Lord

Every brother and sister should set aside their old occupation on the day they are saved. I hope that you will give up all your ambitions and aspirations the day you begin your Christian life. You should no longer aspire to be someone special. You should no longer strive to be someone outstanding or distinguished in your field or line of occupation. You should learn from Paul, who had only one ambition—to be well pleasing to the Lord. You should not have any ambition other than this. All worldly occupations should be put aside. You should no longer have any aspiration to be great or outstanding. You should only aspire to serve the Lord in His presence.

V. THE GLORY OF THE PRIESTHOOD

During the early years of my Christian life, I always felt that it was a hard job to exhort young believers to serve God. It seemed that I had to try very hard to beckon, beg, and plead with others to serve God. But God’s view is totally different from ours. God took the priesthood away from the Israelites when they sinned. In God’s eyes service is a great privilege and a high honor. If a man fails or backslides, God takes away the priesthood from him. God has no intention to persuade or beg man to serve Him. He has no intention of seeking man’s approval. It is man’s glory, not God’s, for him to be called to be God’s priest.

A. God Honoring Us by Calling Us to the Priesthood

Those who offered strange fire in the Old Testament were burned to death. Some died when they entered the holy place. Others died when they tried to offer sacrifices to God. God would not allow anyone except the priests to come to Him. In God’s eyes the priesthood is a trust He has placed upon man. He is bestowing glory and honor to man and uplifting man when He calls him to the priesthood. A person would die if he volunteered to take up the priesthood according to his own will. Uzzah, who stretched out his own hand to steady the ark when it tilted, was immediately smitten to death.

B. Foolish Men Considering Service to Be a Favor to God

There are many people who think that they are granting God a favor by offering themselves to Him. Over the past decades, I have always felt uneasy when preachers pleaded with believers in revival meetings to give themselves to serve God. Many people give a little money to God and think that they are doing Him a special favor. Many people offer themselves to serve God and think that they are doing Him a favor. Some people think that they are bestowing honor upon God when they give up a little position in the world. Their hearts seem to be saying, “I give myself, someone as important as I, to serve God today!” Some give up their little positions and think that they are exalting the Lord. But this is blindness! This is nothing but folly and darkness!

C. Our Greatest Honor Being to Serve God

If God in heaven has called us to be His priests, we should be on our knees before Him to receive His calling. This is our greatest honor. God has elevated us. We do not say that we can give anything to God. We say that our greatest honor lies in God’s acceptance of what we offer to Him. What a tremendous honor that persons such as ourselves can serve God. This is pure grace! This surely is the gospel! It is not only a gospel about Jesus’ salvation; it is a gospel that even persons such as ourselves can serve God. This is indeed the gospel, a great gospel.

VI. UPHOLDING THE PRIESTHOOD

A. There Being No Church without the Universal Priesthood

In the church today the priesthood is no longer restricted to only a few people; it has become a universal priesthood. The nation of Israel failed; the church cannot fail again. The nation of Israel failed in that God’s people and God’s priests became separated. May the Lord have mercy on us. May there be no separation between God’s people and His priests in the church today. In the church God’s people are His priests. All the people of God are priests of God. There must be as many priests as there are brothers and sisters. Everyone must come to God to offer up spiritual sacrifices and sacrifices of praise. Everyone should take part in spiritual service. This is not a selective ministry. Everyone should come to God to serve Him. A church that comes short of universal and direct access to God is not a church.

Please bear in mind that there is no church if the priesthood is not universal. The nation of Israel failed; the church should not fail again. During the past two thousand years, the scope of the priesthood has never been recovered to include all the people of God. The two thousand years of church history show us a frequent separation between the people and the ministry of the priests. An intermediary class has time and time again come between God and His people. This is the work and teaching of the Nicolaitans.

B. No Longer Tolerating the Intermediary Class

We can no longer tolerate an intermediary class. We can no longer accept a hierarchy. We can no longer allow priests to stand between God and His children; we can no longer accept an intermediary class. We need to see what the church is. The church is the place where every child of God is a priest. We cannot have one person or a few persons monopolizing spiritual service. They cannot be the only ones through whom God speaks or the only ones through whom we approach God to settle spiritual matters. Such an intermediary class cannot exist in the church.

Our controversy with denominations is not a matter of outward forms but a matter of inward content. Today there is a hierarchy in the denominations—one group of people is serving God, while the rest are merely pew members. One group of people is serving God as a profession, while the rest of the pew members, though equally born to be God’s children, need to approach Him through them. This hierarchical practice is tolerated by many organizations in Christianity today. But we cannot accept any intermediary class. We cannot set aside the grace given to the church in the New Testament. We cannot forsake it as the Israelites did.

C. The Intermediary Class Abolished When Everyone Serves

We need to abolish the intermediary class. In order for us to abolish this class, we all have to become part of it. When all of us become a part of that class, the hierarchy is gone. How can we make the three groups two groups? How can we turn three-way traffic into two-way traffic? How can these three—God, the priesthood, and the people—become two? There is no other way except to kneel down before the Lord and say, “Lord, I am willing to serve You. I am willing to be a priest.” When all of God’s children become His priests, the three parties will be reduced to two.

Hierarchy comes from the world, the flesh, idol worship, and the love of the world. If all the brothers deny the world and reject idolatry from the beginning, they will all offer themselves up to God. They will say, “From this day forward, I will live on earth for the sole purpose of serving God.” Then hierarchy will disappear spontaneously. If all the brothers realize that their sole occupation is to serve God and if all of them will serve God in coordination, the intermediary class will disappear!

D. One Needing to Be a Priest As Long As One Is a Christian

I hope you will not allow any intermediary class to come in. Uphold this from the very beginning. Only among the fallen and backslidden ones and among those who walk according to their own way could there be the resurgence of an intermediary class. Among those defeated ones, it is natural for some to serve the Lord and some not to serve the Lord. Those who do not serve the Lord attend to their own affairs, while those who serve the Lord take care of spiritual affairs. Those who do not serve the Lord, at most, offer some money to support those who serve. They may be businessmen, teachers, or doctors, but they all attend to their own affairs and walk their own way. They do not seem to have anything to do with God’s service. In this kind of setting, what does a person need to do to qualify to be a good Christian? He only needs to set aside a little time every week to attend a worship service. If he has some money, he only needs to offer a small portion of it. But this clearly makes God’s people and His priests two classes of people! Today we should realize that either we are not Christians at all or we have to be those who consecrate everything to the Lord. As long as we are Christians, we have to be priests to God.

VII. THE RECOVERY OF THE PRIESTHOOD

A. There Being No Problem in the Early Churches

The danger that haunted the nation of Israel is the same problem that has confronted the church over the past two thousand years. From the time of the Lord’s departure until the time of the writing of Revelation and a little beyond that point, all of God’s children were priests. Everyone who considered himself a child of God was a priest of God. There was no problem then. There was no problem from the first century up through the third century. Individually, there were isolated problems here and there, but as a whole there was no problem. Here and there some of God’s children refused to be priests, but as a whole we did not see any problem. As long as a person was a child of God, he was a priest of God.

B. The Church’s Nature Being Changed after the Roman Empire’s Acceptance of Christianity

When the Roman Empire endorsed Christianity, many people began to creep in. There were material benefits in believing in the Lord; one became a fellow believer of the emperor and a brother of Caesar. Originally, the Lord’s charge was, “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s” (Matt. 22:21). Now both the things of Caesar and the things of God were rendered to God. This indeed was a big victory for Christianity. Constantine was converted to Christ. The result was a gradual but significant shift for the church. Believers were no longer the same as those who professed their faith at an earlier age. During the ten periods of persecution under the reign of Rome, tens of thousands of Christians suffered martyrdom. It was not easy to pretend to be a Christian. But then the situation totally changed. It became fashionable to be a believer and to share the same faith as the emperor and to call him one’s brother. When this shift occurred, many decided to join Christianity. As a result, the number of people increased, while the number of priests remained the same. It is easy to creep into the Christian fold, but it is absolutely impossible to creep into God’s service.

C. A Separation between the Spiritual Ones and the Worldly Ones

The church witnessed a drastic change in the fourth century. During that period, many who joined the church were either unbelievers or half believers. They appeared to be believers, yet they held worldly power in their hands. They had no desire to serve the Lord in the church. At the most they were saved, but they could not serve the Lord. Spontaneously, some spiritual ones rose up to take care of the affairs of the church. The others then said, “You do it! Go and serve the Lord. We are the secular ones.” The word secular was introduced in the fourth century. Some would attend to earthly affairs, while others would attend to spiritual work. As a result many served God, but many more no longer served.

At the time of the apostles in the first century, every believer served the Lord. From the fourth century on, men began to say, “We are merely God’s people. We attend to our own affairs in the world and keep our positions in society. Once in a while, we give a little money. This should qualify us as Christians. Let the spiritual ones take care of the spiritual things for us.” From that time forward, the church followed the footsteps of the nation of Israel; it worshipped “the golden calf” and created an intermediary class. No longer were all of God’s people priests. Some became merely His people but not His priests.

Today, clergymen in the Roman Catholic Church are called priests. In China they are known as fathers. These so-called fathers are actually called priests. Some state churches follow the example of the Roman Catholic Church and give their pastors the title of priests. Those who tend to earthly affairs are called God’s people, while those who manage spiritual things are called priests. The church has been divided into priests and people.

D. The Lord Taking the Way of Recovery

There is something I would like all of us to see: In this end time, God is doing a work of recovery; He is taking the way of recovery. I believe God is leading all of His children up to this position in this last age. Here is one segment of the pathway of the church that is waiting for a fundamental recovery—the universal priesthood of God’s children. As long as a person is one of God’s people, he should be a priest. There are priests today. In the kingdom to come, there also will be priests. God wants to secure His priests. He wants all of His people to be His priests.

VIII. THE SERVICE OF THE PRIESTS

As soon as you become a Christian, you become a priest. If you want to be a Christian, you have to be a priest. Do not expect anyone to be a priest for you. You have to be a priest yourself. There is no intermediary class among us. No one will attend to spiritual affairs for us. No one will work for us. Among us we must not have another class of people called workers.

A. The Need for the Whole Church to Serve

If God is merciful to us, all the brothers and sisters will spontaneously be working, preaching the gospel, and serving the Lord together. The more universal the priesthood is, the more visible the church will be. Once the priesthood becomes non-universal, we have failed and our pathway has been corrupted.

B. God Honoring Us by Allowing Us to Serve Him

We are poor, weak, blind, and crippled. For the Lord to accept persons such as ourselves to be priests is an honor to us. In the Old Testament, such people could not be priests. All who were disabled, lame, or blemished could not be priests. However, today the base, the unclean, the blind, and the disabled have all been called by God to be priests! He is the Lord. I have said this before: We should gladly give ourselves to His service even if it means crawling to His feet to beg for service. We should be happy to kneel down to beg for this honor. I am happy to crawl on my knees and plead with the Lord, “Lord, I want to serve You. I gladly offer myself to Your service. You honor me by allowing me to come to You.” To be a priest is to draw near to God. To be a priest is to have no distance between us and God; it is to be able to enter in directly and to wait for no one. To be a priest means that we can touch God ourselves.

C. God’s Kingdom Realized When Everyone Serves

If one day all the brothers and sisters in all the churches rise up to serve, the kingdom of God will come among us. It will be a kingdom of priests; all the people will be priests. This is glorious. I look forward to the day when all idols are removed from among us. Before the Lord, we should pay whatever price it takes to achieve this. The Levites paid the price; they were faithful in setting aside their personal affection. Only such people can have a share in the priesthood.

D. The Basis of the Priesthood—God’s Acceptance

In order to fully understand the priesthood, we need to understand the way God dealt with the priests in the Old Testament. It is a great matter for God to allow a person to draw near to Him without being smitten. Only the priests could eat the showbread, serve at the altar, and enter the holy place. Only they could offer the sacrifices. Others died when they entered the holy place. God’s acceptance is the basis of the priesthood. Since God has accepted us, should we not enter in today? Formerly, anyone would die if he dared to enter in. But today God says, “You can come!” How strange it is if we still feel reluctant to come.

E. God’s Mercy Enabling Us to Serve in Grace

We need the Lord to open our eyes. It is grace in its highest form for a person to be given the privilege to serve Him. Those who really know God will say, “The grace that allows me to serve God is greater than the grace which brought me to salvation.” The dog under the table can eat the crumbs underneath the table, but it cannot serve at the table. To be saved by grace is relatively simple, but not everyone can serve by grace. Today in the church, everyone who is saved by grace can also serve. It is foolish not to consider this to be a great grace.

F. Rejecting the Principle of Having an Intermediary Class

Today’s Christianity acknowledges the presence of an intermediary class. Christianity as we see it today even divides God’s priests and God’s people into two classes. We look forward to the day when there is no more hierarchy among us. There may be one or two persons in the church who have failed. But the principle does not change. Today it is fashionable in Christianity to compromise principles. In principle, today’s Christianity has fallen and has taken the way of the Israelites—the people and the priests have become two. May we not fall into such a system!

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(Note – In the historical Baptist Church that has existed since the time of Christ, the pastor is the shepherd of the flock and then there are deacons and members. The pastor is similar to the High Priest of Israel.  This is God’s only hierarchy.  Every member is still a priest and they all have different gifts that are used in the service of God.  Even in Israel, the priests all had different jobs.  Some did the music, others offered sacrifice.  Some made and cared for the articles of the temple, and the HIGH PRIEST was the one that entered into the Holy of Holies once a year with the blood for the sins of the people.  Even though there were different positions and a hierarchy, they were still all priests.)

(Written originally by Watchman Nee in China during the Chinese revolution and died in a prison camp but these lessons have been the foundation of my life for 38 years.  David Williams – site Admin.)

LOVING THE BROTHERS

Scripture Reading: John 5:24; 1 John 3:14

Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.  (John 5:24)

We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death.  (1 John 3:14)

The Gospel of John was the last Gospel written, and the Epistles of John were the last Epistles written. Before the Gospel of John there are three Gospels, the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, which cover many acts and teachings of the Lord Jesus. The Gospel of John shows us the highest and most spiritual things concerning the coming of the Son of God to earth. It tells us clearly what kind of people can receive eternal life. It repeatedly says that those who believe have eternal life. The Gospel of John is full of the matter of believing. A person receives eternal life when he believes. This is the subject and emphasis of the Gospel of John. The Gospel of John pays special attention to things that the other Gospels do not cover. John 5:24 says, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.” In other words, those who hear and believe have passed out of death into life. Here the door of the gospel is very wide.

When we come to the Epistles, Paul, Peter, and the other apostles also explain faith in a very clear way. They show us that every believer can receive grace. Yet when we come to the final Epistles, the Epistles written by John, we find the emphasis shifting to other things. While the other Epistles pay much attention to a man’s faith in God, John emphasizes one aspect of practical conduct before God. His Epistles speak of love. The other Epistles say that those who believe are justified, forgiven, and cleansed. But John’s Epistles say that a person’s faith must be evidenced by his love.

If we ask someone, “How do you know that you have eternal life?” he may answer, “God’s Word says so.” But this is not quite enough. He may have spoken it out of his mental knowledge; he may not have truly believed in God’s Word. Therefore, John shows us in his Epistles that if a man says that he has eternal life, he must prove it. If a man says that he is of God, others must witness some kind of manifestation or testimony in him.

A person may say, “I have believed; therefore, I have eternal life.” He may say this based on his knowledge. He can make the process of believing and having eternal life a formula: First, one hears the gospel; second, he understands; third, he believes; and fourth, he knows that he has eternal life. But this kind of formulaic “salvation” is not trustworthy. The Bible tells us that at the time of Paul there were false brothers (“In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren;”(2 Corinthians 11:26); “And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage:” (Galatians 2:4)). False brothers are those who call themselves brothers but are not actually brothers. Some claim to be of God but are actually void of life. They make their way into the church through doctrines, knowledge, and certain regulations. How can we know whether or not a person’s faith is genuine? How do we know whether a person’s faith before God is living or merely a formula? What way is there to prove who is of God and who is not? The Epistles of John settle this problem. John gave us a way to differentiate between true brothers and false brothers, between those who are born of God and those who are not born of God. Let us look at John’s way of discernment.

I. THE LIFE OF LOVE

There are only two passages in the Bible which contain the phrase out of death into life. One is in John 5:24, and the other is in 1 John 3:14. Let us make a comparison between these two portions.

John 5:24 says, ” Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.” Here it says that he who believes has passed out of death into life.

First John 3:14 says, “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death.” This verse speaks of the proof of one’s having passed out of death into life. The proof is love for the brothers.

Suppose you have many friends and you like them very much, or you admire many people and respect them very much. There is still a difference between your feelings toward them and your feelings toward the brothers and sisters in your own family. Somehow, there is a difference. If a person is born of your mother, if he is your brother, there is spontaneously a special and inexplicable feeling toward him. It is a feeling of instinctive love. This feeling proves that you and he belong to the same family.

The same holds true for our spiritual family. Suppose there is a person whose appearance, family background, education, disposition, and interest are totally different from yours. Yet he has believed in the Lord Jesus. Spontaneously, you will have an inexplicable feeling toward him. You will feel that he is your brother. He will be dearer to you than your brother in the flesh. This feeling proves that you have passed out of death into life.

First John 5:1 says, “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him.” This is a very precious word. If you love God who has begotten you, it is only natural that you will love those who are begotten of God. It is impossible to say that you love God and yet have no feeling toward your brothers.

This love is proof that the faith we have acquired is a genuine faith. Such unspeakable love can only issue from genuine faith. This love for the brothers is something very special. A person loves for no other reason than the fact that the other person is a brother. He does not love because there is a common bond of interest. He loves simply because the other person is his brother. It is possible for two persons with different educational backgrounds, temperaments, family backgrounds, opinions, and views to love each other simply because both are believers. Both are brothers, and spontaneously they have fellowship one with another. There is an unspeakable feeling and taste toward each other. This feeling and taste is the proof that they have passed out of death into life. We know that we have passed out of death into life if we love the brothers.

It is true that faith brings us to God. Through faith we pass out of death into life, and through faith we are made members of the household of God and are regenerated. But faith brings us not only to the Father but also to the brothers. Once we have this life, we will have a feeling for the many people throughout the world who also have this life. Spontaneously, this life will draw us toward those who have the same life. This life takes pleasure in their presence; it delights in communicating with them and has a spontaneous love for them.

The Gospel of John and the Epistles of John show us God’s ordained order: First, faith brings us out of death into life, and then those who have passed out of death into life have this love. By loving the brothers, we know that we have passed out of death into life. This is a very reliable way to ascertain the number of God’s children on earth. Only those who love one another are brothers; those who do not love one another are not brothers.

Brothers and sisters! We must realize that in the eyes of God our love for the brothers is a test of the genuineness of our faith. We have no better way to tell whether a person’s faith is true or false. In the absence of this discernment, the more perfectly the gospel is preached, the greater will be the danger of counterfeits. The more thoroughly the gospel is preached, the easier it will be for false ones to come in. The more the gospel is preached with grace, the more careless ones will creep in. There must be a way to discern and recognize genuine faith from counterfeit faith. The Epistles of John show us clearly that the way to differentiate true faith from false faith is not through faith itself but through love. There is no need to ask how great one’s faith is. It is necessary only to ask how great his love is. Where there is genuine faith, there will be love. The lack of love proves the absence of faith. The presence of love proves the presence of faith. When we approach faith through the gateway of love, everything will become clear to us.

Whether or not a person is a genuine Christian depends on whether he has a special taste for and attraction toward other children of God. The life which God has given us is not an independent life. It is a life which spontaneously draws us toward those with the same life. It loves and desires mutual intimacy. Those who have such feelings have passed out of death into life.

II. THE COMMANDMENT OF LOVE

First John 3:11 says, “For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another..”

Verse 23 says, “And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment.”

Loving one another is a commandment from God. God commands us to do two things: to believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ and to love one another. We have already believed. Now we also should love. God gave us this love, and He also gave us the commandment to love. God first gave us this love and then He gave us the commandment to love one another. Today we must love one another according to God’s commandment. We must also love one another with the love which God has given us. We must exercise the love which God has put into us. We must apply it according to its nature. We should never quench it or hurt it.

First John 4:7-8 says, “Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.”

We must love one another, because love is of God. Those who have love are begotten of God. Those who do not love have not known God because God Himself is love. When God begot us, He also begot love in us. We were without love, but today we have love. Today the love we possess is from God. God has begotten love in everyone who is born of God. God has given love to both you and others. This is why we can love one another.

Those who are begotten of God have received a life—a life which is God Himself. God is love; therefore, those who are begotten of God have such a love begotten within them. The life which we have received from God is a life of love. Everyone who is begotten of God has love in him, and everyone who has love in him spontaneously loves the brothers. It would be strange if we could not love one another. God gave every Christian a life of love. He also gave him the commandment of love based upon this life of love: “Let us love one another.” God first gives us the love, and then He tells us to love. He first gives us a life of love, and then the commandment of love. We should bow our heads and say, “Thank You! God’s children can now love one another.”

III. IF ONE DOES NOT LOVE THE BROTHERS

Now let us consider all the verses under this category in 1 John.

First John 2:9-11 says, “He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now. He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him. But he that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes.” Are you clear? Whether or not a man is a brother and whether or not he walks in the light and turns away from darkness are determined by whether or not he loves his brother.

If a person knows that you are a brother and yet he hates you in his heart, it proves that he is not a Christian. If he has seen five brothers and says, “I love four of them, but I hate one in my heart,” it proves that he is not a brother. We must realize that we do not love a brother because he is lovable but because he is a brother. We love him because he is a brother. This is the only reason for us to love. If a person knows that you are a brother and are of the Lord yet still hates you, it proves that he has no life in him. Here it says, “But he that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes.” He is in the darkness and he walks in the darkness. In other words, the Bible denies the possibility that anyone can hate his brothers; it does not accept this as a possibility at all. If you know that a person is a brother and yet hate him, you must say, “Lord, I am not walking in the light. I am in the darkness and am walking in the darkness.”

First John 3:10 says, “In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother.” He who does not practice righteousness outwardly is not of God. In the same way, he who does not have an inward love for his brother is not of God. He who does not love his brother is not of God, because this love and this feeling are not in him. In this the children of God are manifest.

Verse 14 says, “He that loveth not his brother abideth in death.” This love does not refer to ordinary love but to the love with which one loves his brothers. If a person does not have such a love for the brothers within him, the Bible says that he “abides in death.” We can understand why a person has no feeling or attraction for other believers before he believes. But it would be very strange if, after believing, he still has no feeling or attraction toward other believers. His faith may not be that genuine. “He that loveth not his brother abideth in death.” Formerly, such a person was dead. I am afraid that he is still dead because faith is based on love. Whether or not a person’s faith is genuine depends on whether there is love. Those who believe in God have a love for the brothers. If love is absent, it proves that the person still abides in death.

Verse 15 says, “Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.” We cannot imagine that any person would still murder after becoming a believer. The Bible tells us that to hate one’s brother is to murder. A person who has eternal life should never hate his brother. Hating the brothers proves that there is no love in him. It means that eternal life is not in him.

God’s children can be in many different conditions, but they can never hate. If there is a brother who is offensive in certain ways, we may not like him in our heart. If there is a brother who has committed a sin worthy of excommunication, we may deal with the matter with indignation. If there is a brother who has done something extremely evil, we may ask him to come to us and rebuke him severely before the Lord. But we can never hate our brothers. If a brother hates another brother, eternal life is not in him.

Every child of God has a life rich enough to love all the brothers and sisters. As long as a person belongs to the Lord, he deserves a believer’s love. Our love for any one brother should be the same as our love for all the brothers. The brotherly love that is applied toward one brother should be equally applicable to all the brothers. This kind of love for the brothers makes no distinction. As long as one is a brother, he deserves this love. If anyone hates a brother, it proves that he does not have eternal life in him. He does not have to hate all the brothers. As long as he hates one brother, it is enough to prove that he does not have brotherly love in him. The brotherly love that we are speaking about is a love that loves all the brothers.

This is a very sobering thought. If a believer does not love his brother but hates him instead, or if he threatens or attacks his brother, we can say only, “May God be merciful to him! Here is a person who thinks that he is a believer and yet he is not saved at all!” As long as he hates a brother, it proves that he is not of the Lord. This is a serious matter!

Under normal circumstances, if a brother has done things which irritate you, you can exhort him and rebuke him, but you cannot hate him. If he has done something which provokes you, you may be angry with him and rebuke him severely. But there cannot be any hatred in you. Even if you “tell it to the church,” according to Matthew 18, your intention should still be to gain him and restore him. If you have no intention of restoring him and if your goal is only to attack him and tear him down, it proves that you are less than a brother. The brother spoken of in Matthew 18 told the church because he wanted to gain his brother. The whole issue is whether your goal is to tear down your brother or to gain him. This is quite a serious matter. We must not take it lightly!

Concerning the fornicator in 1 Corinthians 5:13, Paul said, “Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.” At the beginning Paul delivered such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh in the name of the Lord Jesus and with the power of the Lord Jesus because the Corinthians did not do anything to cast him out. Is this kind of dealing too severe? It was indeed extremely severe. But Paul did this so that the man’s spirit would be saved in the day of the Lord (v. 5). The purpose for his flesh being destroyed in the present time was so that he would not suffer eternal loss. The purpose of telling it “to the church” in Matthew 18 is for restoration; the removing in 1 Corinthians 5 is also for restoration.

When Joshua judged Achan, he said, “My son, give, I pray thee, glory to the LORD God of Israel, and make confession unto him; and tell me now what thou hast done; hide it not from me.” (Josh. 7:19). Though Achan had committed a great sin, he spoke to Achan with such a spirit and such brotherly love.

David took hold of his clothes and tore them when a young messenger brought the news of Saul’s death to him. He mourned, wept, and fasted until the evening (2 Sam. 1:11-12). When someone told David about Absalom’s death, David was much moved. He wept, saying, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!” (18:33). Saul was a king who hated David, and Absalom was David’s rebellious son. Yet David wept when they died. He had to fight the battles, and he had to judge, but he could not restrain his tears. He had to judge, and he had to condemn, but he could not hold back his tears.

Brothers and sisters, if a person can only judge and condemn but has no tears or sadness, it proves that he does not know anything about brotherly love. If anyone rebukes a brother only for the purpose of tearing him down, such a one has no love in him, only hatred. To hate the brothers is to murder them! This is a very serious matter!

A brother once wrote to J. N. Darby about the matter of excommunication. Darby’s first words were, “I think it is the most dreadful thing for a sinner whose sins have been forgiven to excommunicate another sinner.” There is nothing more dreadful than for a sinner whose sins are forgiven to excommunicate another sinner. Mr. Darby’s reaction was something that issued from a life of love. No doubt, there are many things which need to be addressed. We can excommunicate a sinful brother or sister from the church if it becomes necessary to do so. But we must never harbor any hatred in dealing with them.

First John 4:20-21 says, “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.” Here John shows us that to love one’s brothers is equal to loving God. He who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. We should love our brothers if we want to love God. This is the commandment which we have received from God.

We must be careful not to do anything that will offend love. We should not offend our brothers lightly. We must love one another and must honor the brotherly love that has been placed in our hearts. We should not put aside such a heart. God has placed this heart in us so that we can use it to serve and help the brothers. We should allow this brotherly love to grow, to be strengthened, and to be empowered.

First John 3:17 says, “But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?” John did not say, “How does the love of the brothers abide in him?” He said, “…how dwelleth the love of God in him?” because the love of God is the love of the brothers, and the love of the brothers is the love of God. The love of God does not abide in a person who shuts up his love for his brother. He cannot deceive himself by saying, “Although I do not love my brother, I love God.” Our relationship with the brothers comes from our relationship with God. If we are not related to the brothers, it means that we are not related to God. If we reject our brothers, the love of God is not in us.

IV. HOW TO LOVE THE BROTHERS

First John 3:16 says, “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” What does it mean to love the brothers? John goes on to explain it. We do not know what love is until we see how the Lord laid down His life for us. John continues by saying, “And we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” A love for the brothers is a willingness to lay ourselves aside to serve them. It is a willingness to deny oneself for the perfection of others, and a heart that will even lay down one’s very own life for his brothers.

Verse 18 says, “My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. ” Brotherly love is not just empty words; it is manifested in deed and truthfulness.

First John 4:10-12 says, “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us…..” This shows us that our love toward God and our love toward one another cannot be separated. The love of God is perfected in us if we love one another. Today God has put many brothers before us for us to practice our love for God. The love of God is perfected in us if we love one another. We should not say in a vain way that we love God. We must learn to love the brothers in a real way. It is vanity to merely talk about love. Our love for God must be expressed in our love for the brothers.

First John 5:2-3 says, “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.” If we love God, we must keep His commandments. Likewise, if we love God’s children, we must keep His commandments. For example, God’s commandment says that we should be baptized by immersion. But many of God’s children hold different opinions. They say, “I do not agree with baptism by immersion. If you love me, you should not be baptized by immersion. This will hurt me.” What should we do? God commands us to leave the denominations and not remain in any sects; however, many of God’s children promote the denominations. They say, “You should not leave the denominations. You will hurt us if you leave the denominations.” What should we do? We must leave the denominations if we want to love God, and we should stay in the denominations if we want to love our brothers. This puts us in a dilemma. But verse 2 says, “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments.” In other words, we cannot say that we love God’s children if we do not keep God’s commandments. Suppose a brother is touched by God to be baptized by immersion. He should be baptized if he loves God’s children. If he is not baptized, he will affect other children of God; they also may choose not to be baptized. This will hinder them from obeying God. This is not the way to love them. If we keep all the commandments of God, we will know that we have loved His children. We will have taken the way of obedience. Now other children can take the same way. If we choose not to obey just because we are afraid that we may hurt them by our obedience, we will have no way to go on, and they will have no way to go on as well. We must learn to love God, and we must keep all His commandments. It is by loving Him and keeping His commandments that we know we love His children. We must keep all the commandments of God. This is the only way to lead God’s children to the way of obedience. Consider another illustration: Suppose your parents do not allow you to believe in the Lord. What should you do? Would you deny the Lord for the sake of loving them? If you listen to them and deny the Lord, you are not practicing love at all! If you do not listen to them and instead believe in the Lord, they may be angry with you for a time, but you have opened a way for them to believe in the Lord. This is love!

However, we must not offend our parents in attitude or in words. It is right for us to obey and follow God’s commandments, but we must not offend our parents in our attitude and our words. We need to hold fast to God’s truth, and at the same time, we need to maintain love. We must learn to be righteous from the very beginning of our Christian life. At the same time, we must not give up love. Do not emphasize the holiness of the life of God at the expense of the love found in His life. These two aspects should balance one another. We want to obey God, but we must obey in an attitude of meekness. Do not offend love in any way. If something needs to be done, do it. But never do anything which offends love. We must be gentle in our attitude. Even when there are differences of opinion among the brothers, we must still remain gentle. We must be full of love when we tell our brother, “Brother, how I wish to see what you have seen. But God has shown me otherwise, and I have no choice but to obey Him.” Do not lower the standard of God’s Word; neither offend love. On the one hand, be obedient to God. On the other hand, love. We must show our brother that we are not doing something for ourselves; we are doing it because God has said so. Our attitude must be right, and we must be full of meekness. This will gain many brothers and sisters.

V. THE RESULT OF LOVE

First John 4:16 says, “And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.” This is the second occurrence in this Epistle of the phrase God is love. Because God is love, He wants us to love the brothers and abide in love. As long as we abide in love, we abide in God.

Verses 17 and 18 say, “Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.” First John 4 is the only place in the entire Bible that tells us how to stand boldly before the judgment seat. It tells us the secret: Abide in love. To abide in love is to abide in God. We will have boldness in the day of judgment when this love is perfected in us.

We must have only one thought toward our brothers and sisters—love. We must gain them and seek their highest benefit. There must be no hatred, only love. This practice is an exercise for us. One day our whole being will abide in love, and love will also abide in us. Then our lives on earth will be free from all fear. There is no fear when we love. When we stand before the judgment seat, we will not be afraid of anything. This life of love will operate among us until fear is gone. The fruit of the Spirit—love—will give us the boldness to stand before the judgment seat.

We have already seen that to love the brothers is to love God. Our love for the brothers will cause the love of God to be perfected in us. We can love the brothers to such an extent that there is no more fear in us toward the brothers. Loving God and loving the brothers always go together. We must love the brothers on earth if we want to love God. If we do, love is perfected in us, and we will have the boldness on the day of judgment. This is a wonderful thing.

May we all give ourselves to learn to love the brothers from the very beginning of our Christian life. May the life of love find an outlet in us.

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(Written originally by Watchman Nee in China during the Chinese revolution and died in a prison camp but these lessons have been the foundation of my life for 38 years.  David Williams – site Admin.)

WITHSTANDING THE DEVIL

Scripture Reading: James 4:7; 1 Pet. 5:8-9; 2 Cor. 2:11

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.  (James 4:7)

Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world. (1 Peter 5:8-9)

Lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices.  (2 Corinthians 2:11)

The devil is known also as Satan (Rev. 12:9- “And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.”). He was first a cherubim, created by God (Ezek. 28:12-14 – “Son of man, take up a lamentation upon the king of Tyrus, and say unto him, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Thou sealest up the sum, full of wisdom, and perfect in beauty. Thou hast been in Eden the garden of God; every precious stone was thy covering, the sardius, topaz, and the diamond, the beryl, the onyx, and the jasper, the sapphire, the emerald, and the carbuncle, and gold: the workmanship of thy tabrets and of thy pipes was prepared in thee in the day that thou wast created. Thou art the anointed cherub that covereth; and I have set thee so: thou wast upon the holy mountain of God; thou hast walked up and down in the midst of the stones of fire.”) and he was an archangel (Rev. 12:7 – “And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels,”; Matt. 25:41 – “Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:”). Later, he rebelled against God by uplifting himself to be equal to God. Because of this, God judged him (Isa. 14:12-15 – “How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High.” [In versions after the KJV, especially the NIV the word Lucifer is removed and replaced with “Morning Star” which is a name for Jesus.]; Ezek. 28:15-19 – “Thou wast perfect in thy ways from the day that thou wast created, till iniquity was found in thee. By the multitude of thy merchandise they have filled the midst of thee with violence, and thou hast sinned: therefore I will cast thee as profane out of the mountain of God: and I will destroy thee, O covering cherub, from the midst of the stones of fire. Thine heart was lifted up because of thy beauty, thou hast corrupted thy wisdom by reason of thy brightness: I will cast thee to the ground, I will lay thee before kings, that they may behold thee. Thou hast defiled thy sanctuaries by the multitude of thine iniquities, by the iniquity of thy traffick; therefore will I bring forth a fire from the midst of thee, it shall devour thee, and I will bring thee to ashes upon the earth in the sight of all them that behold thee. All they that know thee among the people shall be astonished at thee: thou shalt be a terror, and never shalt thou be any more.”) and he became Satan, the adversary of God. In the original text the word Satan means “an opposer, an adversary.” The devil opposes everything that God does. In addition, he always sets himself against God’s children.

We want to look at the way the devil attacks God’s children and how they withstand him.

I. SATAN’S WORK

We will look at Satan’s work in four aspects.

A. Satan’s Work in the Human Mind

Second Corinthians 10:4-5 says, “(For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;” This shows us that Satan uses every high thing as a stronghold to surround man’s thought. In order for the Lord to gain us, He must first overthrow the strongholds of Satan. He must do this before He can charge into man’s thought and take it captive.

1. Satan’s Reasonings and Temptations

What are reasonings? This word in Greek can be translated “imagination” or “thought.” Satan often surrounds us with many imaginations. Men are foolish; they think that these thoughts are their own. Actually, they are the strongholds of Satan, and they prevent the mind from submitting to Christ. Often Satan injects a kind of imagination into our mind. If we think this imagination is from ourselves, we fall into his snare. Often thoughts develop which have no basis in fact; they are merely imaginations. Many so-called sins are imaginary in nature; they are not real. Many of the so-called problems among the brothers and sisters come from our imagination; they have no factual basis. Often Satan injects a wild thought into our mind, and we are completely oblivious to his work. When he injects a sudden thought into our mind and we accept it, we are accepting his work. If we reject this thought, we reject his work. Many thoughts are not our own; they are actually concocted by Satan. We must learn to reject these thoughts from Satan.

Most of Satan’s temptations come through the mind. Satan realizes that God’s children will rise up and withstand him vehemently if he attacks openly. This is the reason he tempts us by sneaking in stealthily and planting a thought in our mind unconsciously. Once the thought gets into us, we begin to think about it. If the more we dwell on a thought the more we feel justified and right, we have fallen into his snare. The thought that we have accepted is Satan’s temptation. If we reject Satan’s attacks in our mind, we will shut off the most vulnerable entrance of his temptations.

Many problems among God’s children are problems in the mind; they are not real problems. Sometimes when you see a brother or a sister, you may feel that he or she has a problem with you or that there is a distance between you. This may result in a barrier between you. Actually, there is nothing between you. The so-called problem is merely Satan’s attack in your mind or the mind of your brother or sister. Such problems are unnecessary problems. God’s children must reject sudden thoughts and sudden feelings. They must learn never to give in to Satan.

Here, we need to issue a warning. We should not be overly concerned about thoughts from Satan. There are people who go to one extreme of paying no attention at all to Satan’s thoughts. There are also people who go to the other extreme of paying too much attention to thoughts from Satan. A person can easily be cheated if he is not alert to thoughts from Satan. At the same time, a person can lose his mental sanity if he is obsessed about thoughts from Satan. If a person pays too much attention to Satan’s temptations, his mind will become confused, and he will easily become a prey to Satan’s snares. As soon as a person’s eyes are not focused on the Lord, he will find himself in trouble. On the one hand, we need to see that Satan does attack our mind. On the other hand, we need to realize that as soon as we reject his attacks, that is the end of them. If a person has to reject Satan day and night, something is wrong with his mind; he is heading down the wrong road. On the one hand, we must be familiar with his wiles; if we are ignorant of them we will be cheated. On the other hand, we cannot be overly concerned because that will also lead us into deception. As soon as our eyes are set on him, he has gained what he wants. This distraction will render us useless, and we will become obsessed with his thoughts day and night. Any brother or sister who is overly concerned with such thoughts has already been deceived. We must learn to maintain a proper balance. An excessive concern is wrong. If a person’s mind is constantly worried about thoughts from Satan, he is in reality giving ground to Satan to enter into him. We must never go to the extreme.

2. How to Reject Thoughts from Satan

How do we reject thoughts from Satan? It is easy to reject these thoughts. God has given us our mind; it is ours, not Satan’s. We are the only ones who have the right to use our mind; Satan has no authority over our mind. All we need to do is not allow him to think. Satan can only usurp our mind with deception. He will give us a thought, and we may think that this thought is ours. Actually, it is from Satan. As soon as we recognize that it is not ours, we have overcome.

Satan always tempts and attacks a person by stealthy, surreptitious, and covert ways. He does not shout loudly, “Here I come!” Instead, he deceives with lies and falsehood. He does not let us know that he is the one who is doing the work. Once we are aware of an attack from Satan and expose him and his disguise, it will be easy to withstand him. The Lord Jesus said, “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:32). The truth is the fact. We will be set free once we know the fact. The power of Satan is in his lies; once his lies fail, his power is gone. Therefore, as soon as we realize that Satan is attacking us and that this is the fact, we are freed. Some children of God say with their mouth that Satan is the instigator behind everything, but their spirit has no assurance that those things are actually from Satan. Although they say that they are withstanding Satan, they do not know the reality of Satan’s work. As a result, they cannot withstand him. However, as soon as they identify Satan’s work, they can withstand him, and as soon as they withstand him, he flees.

Satan attacks our mind mainly through deception. He makes us think that his thoughts are ours when in reality they are from him. Once we expose his lies, we will reject the thought from him. To withstand means to refuse. When Satan gives us a thought, we should say, “I do not want it.” This is what it means to withstand. When he injects one thought into us, we should say, “I do not take this.” When he injects another thought into us, we should repeat, “I do not accept this.” If we do this, he will not be able to do anything with us. One servant of God in the Middle Ages said, “You cannot stop birds from flying over your head, but you can at least stop them from nesting in your hair.” This is a good word. We cannot stop Satan from tempting us. However, we can stop him from nesting, from gaining a beachhead in us. This power is ours. If we ignore the thoughts that enter our mind, these thoughts will stop.

On the positive side, we need to exercise our mind. Many people have lazy minds. This makes it easy for Satan’s thoughts to lodge in them. Philippians 4:8 says, “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” We can take account of spiritual matters. We need to exercise our mind concerning spiritual matters. If a person always sets his mind on sinful things, Satan can easily inject his thoughts into him, because his thoughts and Satan’s thoughts are not much different. But if we always set our mind on spiritual things, Satan will not be able to inject his thoughts into us easily. Satan is able to inject his thoughts into many people because they are passive, because they have too much spare time, or because their thoughts are unclean in the first place.

There is another point that deserves attention: Our mind must not be attracted to satanic thoughts. There are many people whose minds are attracted to satanic thoughts. They have no interest in the wonderful, spiritual experiences of other brothers. Yet they become very interested when it comes to gossip. Since they love Satan’s work, they cannot reject satanic thoughts. We need to hate Satan’s work in order to reject his thoughts. All filthy thoughts that damage one’s fellowship with the Lord and love for the Lord are from Satan. These thoughts will not come to us if we are not attracted to them in the first place. But if we incline our heart toward these things, they will come to us easily. Therefore, we must learn to reject everything that comes from Satan.

We must pay special attention to rejecting all filthy thoughts. Satan always places filthy thoughts in man to induce man to sin. The starting point is one filthy thought. If we allow it to continue, it will bear the fruit of sin. Therefore, we must refuse any thought that comes from Satan.

However, there is a great problem: What should we do if the thought refuses to leave after we have rejected it? We need to realize that we only need to withstand unwanted thoughts once. Withstanding is a one-time act; we should never withstand twice. James 4:7 says, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” This verse says to withstand the devil and the devil will flee. We must believe that when we withstand the devil, he will flee. It is wrong to continue withstanding for fear that the devil is still around. Whose words do we believe? The Bible says, “Resist…he will flee…” If there is a voice within that suggests that he has not fled, whose voice is it? It is Satan’s voice! Many people choose to believe Satan’s words. Therefore, they lose. We must declare after we have withstood him, “I have already withstood the devil. He is gone from me.” The feeling that he is still lurking around is a lie; it is not real, and it is not from the Lord. He must run. He has no ground to stay. We must be clear that it is right to withstand once, but wrong to withstand a second time. The first withstanding glorifies God’s name. The second withstanding questions God’s Word.

Many people make the mistake of checking with their feelings after they have withstood the devil. They ask, “Is the devil gone?” Their feeling tells them that he is not gone, and they try to withstand him again. Once there is a second withstanding, be sure there will be a third, a fourth, even a hundredth, and a thousandth. In the end we will feel as if we are completely helpless in rejecting it. But if we ignore him completely after we have withstood his temptation once, we will experience victory. We must care for the fact of God’s Word and ignore our own feelings. The fact is that as soon as we withstand the devil, he flees. If we think that he has not fled after we have withstood him, we are being deceived by our feeling. If we believe this feeling, the devil will come back. We must learn to believe God’s glorious words. Once we have withstood him once, there is no need to withstand him a second time because the matter has been settled already.

These are the issues relating to Satan’s work in man’s mind. We must realize that Satan attacks man’s mind. We should reject any thought from Satan. At the same time, we should realize that once we reject his thoughts, the matter is finished. Furthermore, we must not be overly concerned with his attacks. Otherwise, our mind will be thrown into confusion, and we will be ensnared by the devil.

B. Satan’s Work on Man’s Body

The Bible shows us clearly that many physical diseases are the result of Satan’s attack.

The fever of Peter’s mother-in-law was an attack from Satan, and the Lord Jesus rebuked the fever (Luke 4:39 – “And he stood over her, and rebuked the fever; and it left her: and immediately she arose and ministered unto them.“). Something must have a personality before the Lord can rebuke it. We cannot rebuke a cup or a chair; we can only rebuke something that has a personality. Fever is a symptom; the Lord could not rebuke the symptom. But Satan was behind the symptom with a personality of his own. Therefore, as soon as the Lord rebuked the fever, it was gone.

In Mark 9 we see a dumb and deaf child. In man’s eyes dumbness and deafness are sicknesses. But the Lord Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, saying, “Thou dumb and deaf spirit, I charge thee, come out of him, and enter no more into him.” (v. 25). The dumbness and deafness of the child were outward symptoms of his demon possession; they were not ordinary illnesses. We must realize that many sicknesses are medically defined diseases. But there are many sicknesses that are actually attacks from the devil. The Bible does not say that the Lord healed the sickness but that He rebuked it. The boils on Job’s body could not be healed by medicine; they were not medical illnesses; they were attacks from the devil. Unless one first deals with the devil, he has no way to deal with such sicknesses.

We admit that illnesses often occur through man’s negligence of natural laws. However, it can quite often be the result of Satan’s attack. In such a case one only has to ask the Lord to rebuke the sickness, and it will go away. This type of sickness often comes and goes away suddenly. It is an attack from Satan rather than an ordinary illness.

The complication lies in the fact that Satan does not want us to uncover and expose the illnesses he has inflicted. He always hides behind natural symptoms and makes us think that every sickness is the result of natural causes. If we allow him to hide behind these natural symptoms, our illness will not go away. Once we expose his work and rebuke him, the sickness will go away. One Christian had a very high fever and suffered greatly. He could not sleep and did not understand what was happening to him. Later, he was convinced that it was Satan’s work. He prayed to the Lord about it, and the next day the fever went away.

When a Christian becomes sick, he should first find the cause for his illness. He should ask: Is there any proper reason for this sickness? Is this out of natural causes or is it an attack from Satan? If there is not a proper reason for the illness and you discover that it is indeed an attack from Satan, you should withstand him and reject him.

The work of Satan on man’s body results not only in illness but also in death. Satan was a murderer from the beginning, in the same way that he was a liar from the beginning (John 8:44 – “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.”). We should withstand not only Satan’s sickness but also his murdering. All thought of death is from Satan. Every notion of death as a means to escape from anything is from Satan. Satan made Job think of death. He did this not only to Job but also to every child of God. All notions of suicide, death wishes, and premature death are temptations from Satan. He tempts man to sin, and he also tempts man to die. Even thoughts of danger during one’s travels are Satan’s attacks. We must reject these thoughts whenever they come and not allow them to remain in us.

C. Satan’s Work on Man’s Conscience

Revelation 12:10 says, ” And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night.” This shows us that part of Satan’s work is to accuse us. This work is carried out in man’s conscience. As soon as a person is saved, his conscience is quickened, and he begins to know sin. Satan knows this. He knows that the Holy Spirit touches the conscience of God’s children concerning sin. He knows that He guides them into confession and prayer for forgiveness before God. Consequently, Satan steps in to counterfeit the Holy Spirit’s work. He accuses man in his conscience. Such an attack is found frequently among God’s children, and it causes much havoc.

Many children of God cannot differentiate between the Holy Spirit’s reproach and Satan’s accusation. As a result, they are hesitant to withstand anything. This gives Satan further ground to exercise his accusations. Many children of God could have been very useful in the hands of God, but their conscience has been weakened to the uttermost by Satan’s attack. They are bombarded constantly with the accusation and feeling that they have sinned in this and that matter. They are unable to stand up before God or before men. As a result, they become spiritually handicapped for the rest of their lives.

It is true that we should pay attention to the reproach of the Holy Spirit once we become Christians. However, we also need to withstand Satan’s accusation. We need to pay attention to the difference between the Holy Spirit’s reproach and Satan’s accusation. Many so-called reproaches are counterfeits; they are, in fact, Satan’s accusations.

1. The Difference between Satan’s Accusation and the Holy Spirit’s Reproach

What is the difference between Satan’s accusation and the Holy Spirit’s reproach? We need to distinguish between them.

First, all reproaches from the Holy Spirit begin with a small feeling from within. This inner feeling becomes stronger and stronger and convicts us of our mistakes. Satan’s accusation, however, is a continual nagging within. The reproach of the Holy Spirit grows stronger and stronger as time goes on; the accusation of Satan is the same from beginning to end. As time passes, the inner sense of the Spirit ascends by degree; but the accusation of Satan is a constant, muddled nagging that stays the same from beginning to end.

Second, each time we yield to the rebuke of the Spirit, we find the power of sin diminishing in us. Each rebuke of the Spirit diminishes the power of sin a little. Therefore, any rebuke from the Spirit weakens the power of sin; it results in a diminishing of sin. This is not the case with Satan’s accusation. Every time he accuses us, we find the power of sin to be just as great as before.

Third, the reproach of the Holy Spirit brings us to the Lord, whereas Satan’s accusation brings us disappointment. The more we are reproved by the Holy Spirit, the more we are strengthened within to deal with our problem before the Lord. But Satan’s accusation brings about despair and resignation. The reproach of the Holy Spirit causes us to come before the Lord and to rely on Him; Satan’s accusation causes us to turn back to ourselves and to be disappointed.

Fourth, if it is the reproach of the Holy Spirit, confession before the Lord will follow. This confession will result in at least peace, if not joy. There may or may not be joy, but there is always peace. Satan’s accusation, however, is totally different. There is no joy and no peace, even after one confesses his sins. This is like coming out of a major illness or going through a theatrical performance—nothing remains after the act is over. The reproach of the Holy Spirit has a result—peace, if not joy. However, Satan’s accusation leads us nowhere.

Fifth, the reproach of the Holy Spirit reminds us of the blood of the Lord. With Satan’s accusation, there is always the Satan-injected thought: “There is not much use. Perhaps the Lord will not forgive you.” This thought will be there even when we know that we have the blood. In other words, the reproach of the Holy Spirit leads to faith in the Lord’s blood, while Satan’s accusation causes us to lose our faith in the Lord’s blood. When a certain feeling comes, simply check whether we are reminded of the blood as a result of this feeling or whether we have been distanced from the blood. This will tell us whether the feeling is a reproach of the Holy Spirit or an accusation from Satan.

Sixth, the result of the reproach of the Holy Spirit is power from God; one will rise up on his feet and run faster. He will go on with renewed zeal, cast aside his trust in himself, and have more faith in God. However, the result of Satan’s accusation is the debilitation of the conscience. The conscience of such ones is smitten before God. They have no faith in themselves, and they have no faith in God either. It is true that the reproach of the Holy Spirit takes away our strength and our trust in ourselves. But at the same time it causes us to have more faith in the Lord. Satan’s accusation is not like this. It takes away our confidence in ourselves as well as our faith in the Lord. The result is that we become a debilitated person.

2. How to Overcome Satan’s Accusation

Revelation 12:11 says, “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.” Him here refers to Satan, who accused the brothers. How do we overcome him?

First, we overcome by the blood of the Lamb. On the one hand, when we sin before the Lord, we must confess our sins. On the other hand, we must say to Satan, “There is no need for you to accuse me! I come before the Lord today by the blood of the Lord!” To overcome Satan, we must show him that we are forgiven through the blood of the Lamb. All our sins, major or minor, have been forgiven through the blood of the Lamb. This is the Word of God: “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7).

We must realize that the blood of the Lamb is the basis of our forgiveness before God as well as the basis of our acceptance in Him. We should not be so presumptuous as to think that we are good. Neither should we be so foolish as to condemn ourselves from morning to evening. It is foolish to be proud, and it is also foolish to keep looking at oneself. Those who consider themselves to be good are foolish, and those who are blind to the saving power of the Lord are foolish as well. Those who believe in their own power are foolish, and those who do not believe in the Lord’s power are foolish as well. We must see that the blood of the Lamb has already fulfilled all the demands of God. It has also overcome all the accusations of Satan.

Second, we overcome because of the word of our testimony. This word of our testimony declares the spiritual facts; it declares the victory of the Lord. We must tell Satan, “There is no need for you to trouble me! My sins have been forgiven through the Lord’s blood!” We need to exercise our faith to declare that Jesus is Lord and that He has won the victory. We need to speak out the word of our testimony and let Satan hear this word. We must not only believe in our hearts but also declare it to Satan with our mouth. This is the word of our testimony.

Third, we must not love our soul-life even unto death. “The blood of the Lamb” and “the word of their testimony” spoken of previously are two conditions for victory over Satan. The refusal to love one’s soul-life even unto death is an attitude. No matter what Satan is doing, even if he is putting us to death, our attitude should be such that we still trust in the blood of the Lamb and still declare His victory. Satan’s accusation will stop if we stand fast in this way. He cannot overcome us. Instead, we will surely overcome him!

Some brothers and sisters receive so much accusation from Satan that they can no longer discern whether it is an accusation from Satan or a reproach of the Holy Spirit. They should stop confessing their sins for a while; the Lord does not want us to do things foolishly. Instead, they should pray to the Lord and say, “If I have sinned, I will confess my sins and ask for Your forgiveness. But now I am under Satan’s accusation. I pray that You cover all my sins. From this point on, everything is under Your blood, and I will not be bothered by anything anymore, whether it be sin or otherwise!” Those who are in such a condition must forget about everything for a while before they can differentiate clearly between Satan’s accusation and the Holy Spirit’s reproach.

3. How to Help Those Who Are under Satan’s Accusation

We must never add to the burden of the conscience of those under Satan’s accusation. First, we should help them to do only what is within their ability to handle. If we ask them to do what is beyond their ability, they will fall easily into condemnation. We must be sure that they have enough strength before the Lord to go on before we give them stronger advice or urge them to move ahead. Second, where there is the clear work of the Holy Spirit, we should raise the standard a little, for with the clear operation of the Spirit of the Lord and the spirit of revival, the Lord’s word has the ability to uplift the capacity of a person. If we raise the standard very high when the Spirit of the Lord has not done anything, we are not helping these accused ones to go on; rather, we are giving Satan opportunities to accuse them even more.

We must not be careless in pointing out the failures of others. Suppose a brother has failed in certain areas, yet he can still pray, read the Bible, and attend the meetings. As long as you have the assurance within that you can help him, a little push may be all that is necessary to bring him through his trouble. But if you do not have the assurance within and you do not have the power to uplift him, your exposure of his failures will only quench his prayers, his reading of the Bible, and his meeting life. The smoking flax must be rekindled; it must not be smothered. The bruised reed must be supported; it must not be broken. We should not make ourselves the standard and put the conscience of others under condemnation. We must learn not to do things that would offend the conscience of others.

We must point out Hebrews 10:22 to those who are under Satan’s accusation: “Having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience.” With such a sprinkling, our conscience should no longer feel guilty. The principle of the Christian life is a life free from any condemnation in the conscience. When a Christian is condemned in his conscience, he will be weak before God and will be debilitated in all spiritual matters. Satan’s goal is to derail us from this principle. This is the reason he accuses us unceasingly. We need to lay hold of this principle by applying the blood. The more Satan tries to make us feel guilty, the more we should apply the blood to all of our sins. The brothers overcame him not by their own strength, but by the blood of the Lamb. We can declare, “Satan, I admit that I have sinned. But I have been redeemed by the Lord! I have never denied that I am a debtor. I am in debt, but the Lord has paid my debt!” We do not need to deal with Satan’s accusation by denying that we are debtors. We can deal with him by declaring that our debt has been paid.

D. Satan’s Work in the Environment

All circumstances are arranged by God. However, there are many things in our environment which, though permitted by God, are the result of Satan’s direct and active work.

Take Job’s experience as an example. His oxen and donkeys were taken away, his house collapsed, and his children were killed. These were all things in the environment. Though they were permitted by God, Satan was the one directly instigating the attacks.

Peter’s failure was another example. The cause of his fall was partly due to himself, but partly due to Satan’s attack in the environment. The Lord said, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat:” (Luke 22:31). Peter’s fall was the direct result of Satan’s work. Yet it was something permitted by God.

Paul’s thorn was clearly the work of Satan. Paul said, “…there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.” (2 Cor. 12:7). This is the work of Satan. It is Satan who attacks God’s children in the environment.

An even clearer example can be seen in Matthew 8, when the Lord Jesus ordered the disciples to depart to the other side of the sea. He knew that powerful demons had to be cast out on the other side of the sea. After He and the disciples stepped into the boat, suddenly a great tempest arose in the sea so that the boat was covered by the waves. The Lord was asleep. The disciples came near and roused Him, saying, “Lord, save us: we perish.” (v. 25). A few of the disciples were fishermen; they were very experienced sailors. However, they realized that the waves were more than they could handle. The Lord Jesus rebuked their little faith; then He rose and rebuked the winds and the sea. The winds and the sea have no personality of their own, yet the Lord rebuked them because the devil was behind them. Satan had stirred up the winds and the waves.

In conclusion, Satan not only attacks our body, our conscience, and our mind, but also attacks us through our environment.

How should we react to Satan’s attack in the environment?

First, we must humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God. Both James 4 and 1 Peter 5 tell us to withstand Satan. These two portions also tell us to humble ourselves before God. When Satan attacks us in the environment, our first reaction should be to submit to God. We cannot withstand the devil if we do not submit to God. Our conscience will condemn us if we withstand the devil without submitting to God. Therefore, our first reaction should be to submit to God.

Second, we should withstand the devil. When God’s children encounter unreasonable and inexplicable things in the environment and have the clear sense within that these are attacks from Satan, they should withstand him. Once they withstand, the attacks will be behind them. On the one hand, they need to humble themselves under the hand of God. On the other hand, they must withstand Satan’s work in the environment. When they humble themselves, and their attitude before God is firm, God will show them that it is not Him but Satan who is doing the work. Thus, they will be able to differentiate God’s arrangement from Satan’s attack. Once they are clear and once they withstand the devil, the attacks will go away.

Third, we must reject all forms of fear. Satan has to find a lodging ground before he can work on God’s children. He cannot work where he has no ground to work. Therefore, his first attack is to gain a beachhead. He then attacks us from this beachhead. We should not give any ground to him. This is the way to victory. There is one area which can become Satan’s greatest stronghold—fear. When Satan tries to put us through trials, the first thing he does is to put fear into us. An experienced sister once said, “Fear is Satan’s calling card.” Once you accept fear, Satan steps in. If you reject fear, he will not be able to come in.

All thoughts of fear are attacks from Satan. Whatever you are afraid of, you will surely experience. Job said, “For the thing which I greatly feared is come upon me, and that which I was afraid of is come unto me.” (Job 3:25). Job experienced everything that he feared. Satan’s attack in the environment comes mostly in the form of fear. If you withstand the fear, the things that you fear will not come. But if you allow the fear to remain, you will give Satan the opportunity to do the very things that you fear.

Therefore, in order for God’s children to withstand the work of Satan, the first thing they have to reject is fear. When Satan puts a fear in you for this or that thing, you must not give in to this fear. You should say, “I will never accept what the Lord has not measured to me!” Once a person is delivered from fear, he is delivered from Satan’s realm. This is what Paul meant when he said, “Neither give place to the devil” (Eph. 4:27).

Why do we not need to fear? We do not fear “because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.” (1 John 4:4). If we are fearful, it is because we are ignorant of this fact.

II. WITHSTANDING SATAN BY FAITH

First Peter 5:8-9 says, ” Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world.” God’s Word shows us clearly that the way to withstand Satan is by faith. There is no other way to withstand him. What should our faith rest on? How should we exercise our faith to withstand him? Let us consider what the Word of God says concerning this.

A. Believing That the Lord’s Manifestation Is to Destroy the Works of the Devil

First, we must believe that the Lord was manifested for the purpose of destroying the works of the devil (1 John 3:8 – “He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.”). The Son of God has come to the earth; He was manifested. When He was on earth, He destroyed the work of the devil wherever He went. Often Satan’s work was not obvious; he hid behind natural phenomena. However, the Lord rebuked him every time. It is clear that He was rebuking Satan when He rebuked Peter’s speaking (Matt. 16:22-23 – “Then Peter took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee. But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.”), when He rebuked the fever of Peter’s mother-in-law (Luke 4:39-“ And he stood over her, and rebuked the fever; and it left her: and immediately she arose and ministered unto them.”), and when He rebuked the winds and the waves. Although the devil hid behind many natural phenomena, the Lord Jesus rebuked him. Wherever the Lord went, the power of the devil was shattered. This is why He said, ” And if I by Beelzebub cast out devils, by whom do your children cast them out? therefore they shall be your judges.” (Matt. 12:28). In other words, wherever the Lord went, Satan was cast out, and the kingdom of God was manifested. Satan could not remain where the Lord was. This is why He said that He was manifested to destroy the works of the devil.

We should also believe that in manifesting Himself on the earth, the Lord not only destroyed the works of the devil, but also gave authority to His disciples to cast out demons in His name. The Lord said, “Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you.” (Luke 10:19). He gave His name to the church so that His church might continue His work on earth after His ascension. The Lord used His authority on earth to cast out demons. He also gave this authority to the church.

We must distinguish between what the devil has and what we have. What the devil has is power. What we have is authority. All that Satan has is power. But the Lord Jesus has given us authority, which can overcome all the power of Satan. Power cannot prevail over authority. God has given us authority, and Satan will surely fail.

Consider an illustration of how authority overcomes power: A traffic light on a road controls traffic. When a policeman turns on the red light, all pedestrians and cars have to stop. No one is allowed to dash through a red light. The pedestrians and cars are much more powerful than the red light in terms of power. However, no pedestrian or driver will dare dash through the red light because of the presence of authority. This is an example of authority prevailing over power.

Authority prevails over power; this is God’s established policy in this universe. No matter how strong Satan’s power is, one fact remains sure—the Lord Jesus has given His name to the church. This name stands for authority. The church can cast out demons in the name of the Lord. We can invoke the Lord’s name to deal with Satan’s power. Thank God that no matter how great Satan’s power is, the Lord’s name is immeasurably greater. The authority behind the Lord’s name is strong enough to overcome all the power of Satan.

The disciples went out in the name of the Lord. They were surprised when they returned. They told the Lord, “Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through thy name.” (10:17). The Lord’s name spells authority. His giving of His name to us means that He has given His authority to us. The Lord said, “Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you.” (v. 19). Whoever desires to withstand Satan must learn to know the difference between the Lord’s authority and Satan’s power. No matter how great Satan’s power is, the Lord’s authority is able to overcome him. We must believe that God has given this authority to the church. The church can cast out demons and withstand the devil in the name of the Lord Jesus.

B. Believing That the Lord’s Death Has Destroyed Satan

Second, we must believe that through death the Lord Jesus has destroyed him who has the might of death, the devil (Heb. 2:14 – “Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil;”). The manifestation of the Lord Jesus destroyed the works of the devil, and the death of the Lord Jesus destroyed the devil himself.

The Lord’s death pronounces the greatest defeat for the devil because the Lord’s death is not only a punishment but also a way of salvation. In Genesis 2:17 God spoke of death: “… for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” This death is surely a punishment. Satan was delighted at this word. Since man would die if he ate the fruit, Satan tried his best to seduce man to eat it, so that death would reign in man and he could claim the victory. However, the Lord’s death constitutes the greatest way of salvation. It is true that God said, “For in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” This death is punishment. But the Lord has another death. The second death is a way of salvation. Death can punish those who sin. Death can also save and deliver those who are in sin. Satan thought that death could only punish the sinner. He seized upon this fact and reigned through man’s death. However, God saves and delivers man from sin through the death of the Lord Jesus. This is the most profound aspect of the gospel.

The Lord’s death on the cross takes away not only our sins but also the whole old creation. Our old man has been crucified with him. Although Satan reigns through death, the more he reigns through death, the worse his lot becomes, because his reign stops at death. Since we are already dead, death can no longer sting us. He has no further reign over us.

“For in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” God said this so that man would not eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. But man ate it and sinned. What then should be done? The result of sin is death; there is no way to change this. However, there is a way to salvation, a salvation which goes through death. When the Lord Jesus was crucified on the cross for us, the old creation and the old man were both crucified with Him. This means that Satan’s authority can only go as far as death. The Scripture says, “…that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil;” (Heb. 2:14).

Thank and praise the Lord. We are those who are already dead. If Satan attacks us, we can say to him, “I am already dead!” He has no authority over us because we are already dead. His authority extends only to the point of death.

(Note – When I learned this truth years ago, God gave me this song:

Thank God I am dead, I’m freed from sin.

The Lord Jesus Saved Me and He cleansed me within,

He searched ‘til he found me and He gave me life anew,

And the life that He gave me, He’ll give to you.

 

So go tell your brothers and sisters alike.

Tell them of Jesus and this wonderful life.

Tell them of heaven and glory to come,

Of Christ dead and risen God’s only Son.)

Our crucifixion with Christ is an accomplished fact; it is God’s doing. The Bible does not say that our death with the Lord is something that belongs to the future. It is not some experience that we hope to attain one day. The Bible does not tell us to pursue death. It shows us that we are already dead. A person is not dead if he is still pursuing death. However, our death with Christ is a gift from God in the same way that His death for us is a gift. If a man is still pursuing crucifixion, he is standing on fleshly ground, and Satan has full control over those who stand on fleshly ground. We must believe in the Lord’s death. We must also believe in our own death. Just as we believed in the Lord’s death for us, so also we should believe in our death in Him. Both are acts of faith, and neither has anything to do with human pursuits. As soon as we strive to realize these facts, we expose ourselves to Satan’s attack. We have to lay hold of the accomplished facts and declare: “Praise and thank the Lord; I am already dead.”

We must see that, in the eyes of God, our death with Christ is an accomplished fact. Once we see this, Satan can no longer do anything with us. Satan can deal only with those who are not dead. He can rule over only those who are facing death and who are on their way to death. But we are no longer facing death; we have already died. Satan can do nothing about us.

In order to withstand Satan, we must realize that the Lord’s manifestation was a manifestation of authority, and the work of His cross has released all those who are under Satan’s hand. Satan no longer has any authority over us anymore. We are above him. We are those who are already dead. Satan’s way is terminated by death, and there is nothing more that he can do.

C. Believing That the Lord’s Resurrection Has Put Satan to Shame

Third, we must believe that the Lord’s resurrection has put Satan to shame. Satan no longer has any way to attack us.

Colossians 2:12 says, “Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.” This verse speaks of death as well as resurrection. Verse 13 tells us how we died and resurrected; verse 14 tells us what the Lord did at the time of His death; and verse 15 says that the Lord Jesus stripped off the rulers and the authorities and “….having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it.” Verse 20 says, “Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ….” and 3:1 says, “If ye then be risen with Christ,” These verses begin with resurrection and end with resurrection, and the verses in between speak of triumphing in the cross. We stand in the position of resurrection, and we triumph in the cross.

Why can we do this? The statement we made earlier explains this: The Lord has died, and we also are dead in Him. Satan, who has dominion over the old man, can follow us only as far as the cross. Resurrection is beyond him. Just as Satan had nothing in the Lord Jesus while He was on earth (John 14:30), so also he has nothing in Him in resurrection. Satan has no place at all in the new life. He has no authority at all in the new life and cannot touch our new life!

When the Lord was hung on the cross, it seemed as if myriads of demons were surrounding it. They thought that they could destroy the Son of God. It was to have been their greatest victory. Little did they realize that the Lord Jesus would go into death, come out of death, and overcome the authority of death! Here is the glorious fact: The Lord has come out of death! Therefore, we have the boldness and the confidence to say that the life of God is well able to cast away death!

What is the resurrection life? The resurrection life is a life that cannot be touched by death. It is a life that transcends death, that is beyond the boundary of death, that comes out of death, and that death cannot hold. Satan’s power extends only as far as death. The Lord Jesus proved how great the power of His life is through His resurrection. He dismantled the power of Satan. The Bible calls this power the “the power of His resurrection” (Phil. 3:10). When this resurrection power is expressed through us, everything of Satan is cast down!

We can withstand Satan because our life is a life of resurrection. This life has nothing to do with Satan. Our life issues from the life of God; it is a life that comes out of death. Satan’s power only goes as far as death. Whatever it does to us is limited to this side of death. But our life has come out of death. We have a life which he cannot touch. We are standing on resurrection ground, and we look back in triumph through the cross. Colossians 2 speaks of triumphing in resurrection. It is a chapter on resurrection, not death. We do not triumph in death through resurrection; rather we triumph in resurrection through death.

In order to withstand Satan, every child of God must declare with a strong faith, “Thank God, I have resurrected! Satan, what can you do? What you can do goes only so far as death. But the life that I have today has nothing to do with you! This life has been tested by you already. What else can you do? You are powerless! This life has transcended over you! Satan, get away from me!”

We cannot deal with Satan on the ground of hope. We can only stand on the ground of resurrection, the ground of the Lord. This is a very basic principle. Colossians 2:12 tells us that we must believe in “faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.”

We need to take the same position before Satan as that which we take before God. The Bible tells us to put on the robe of righteousness when we come before God (Isa. 61:10; Zech. 3:4-5). Our robe of righteousness is Christ. We need to put on Christ to come before God. In the same way, we need to put on Christ to come before Satan. God cannot find our sins when we put on Christ. Likewise, Satan cannot find our sins when we are in Christ. When we take this stand, Satan can no longer attack us. We are perfect before God and perfect also before Satan. What a glorious fact!

We must not be afraid of Satan. If we are afraid of Satan, he will laugh at us. He will say, “What a fool there is on earth. How can this one be so foolish?” Anyone who is afraid of Satan is foolish, because he has forgotten his position in Christ. We have no reason to fear him. We have transcended over his power. We can stand before him and say, “You cannot touch me! No matter how strong and resourceful you are, you are still one step behind!” On the day of the Lord’s resurrection, He led the enemy captive and openly shamed him. Today we are standing on the ground of resurrection, and we triumph through the cross!

D. Believing That the Ascension of the Lord Is Far above the Power of Satan

Fourth, we must believe that the ascension of the Lord has put Him far above the power of Satan. Ephesians 1:20-22 says, “And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.” This means that the Lord Jesus is already seated in the heavenlies and is far above all the power of Satan.

Ephesians 2:6 says, “And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus:” This is our position, the position of a Christian. The Lord Jesus is resurrected; He is seated in the heavenlies far above all the power of Satan. We are raised up together with Christ and are seated together with Him in the heavenlies, far above all the power of Satan.

Ephesians 6:11 to 13 says, ” Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.” Chapter two shows us that we are seated together with the Lord in the heavenlies. Chapter six shows us that we need to stand firm. Chapter two says that we need to sit, while chapter six says that we need to stand. What does it mean to sit? To sit means to rest. It means that the Lord has overcome and that we can now rest in His victory. This is what it means to depend on the Lord’s victory. What does it mean to stand? To stand means that spiritual warfare is not a matter of assault but of defense. To stand does not mean to attack; it means to defend. Because the Lord has overcome completely, we have no need to attack again. The victory of the cross is complete, and there is no further need to attack. Here we see two attitudes: One is to sit, and the other is to stand. To sit is to rest in the Lord’s victory, while to stand is to withstand Satan and to stop him from taking away our victory.

Christian warfare is a matter of warding off defeat; it is not a matter of fighting for victory. We have already overcome. We fight from the position of victory, and we fight to maintain our victory. We are not fighting to win a victory. We fight from victory; victory is something that is in our hands. The warfare spoken of in Ephesians is the warfare of the overcomers. We do not become overcomers through fighting. We need to distinguish between these two things.

How does Satan tempt us? He causes us to forget our own position and our victory. He blinds our eyes to our own victory. If we give in to his tactics, we will feel that victory is far away and beyond our reach. We must remember that the victory of the Lord is complete. It is so complete that our whole life is included in this victory! Once we believe, we overcome. Satan is defeated and we have overcome in Christ. Satan wants to steal away the victory which we have gained. His work is to taunt us to secretly find out if we still have the faith. If we do not know that victory is already ours, we will fail. But if we know our victory, his work will fail.

Therefore, we counter the work of Satan with the work of the Lord Jesus. We withstand Satan through the Lord’s manifestation, death, resurrection, and ascension. We are standing today upon the accomplished work of the Lord. We do not need to try to overcome in any way when Satan attacks us. Once we have the slightest thought of trying to overcome, we have failed, because our position is wrong. How great is the difference between a person who tries to overcome and one who withstands by knowing that he has already overcome. To withstand the devil means that we withstand him by the victory of Christ.

This matter indeed needs revelation. We need to see the manifestation of the Lord. We need to see His death, resurrection, and ascension. We need to know all these things.

As Christians we must learn to withstand the devil. We must say to Satan under all circumstances, “Get away from me!” May God be gracious to us so that we may all have such a faith. May we have faith toward the four things the Lord has accomplished for us, and may we exercise strong faith to withstand Satan and reject his work upon us.

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(Written originally by Watchman Nee in China during the Chinese revolution and died in a prison camp but these lessons have been the foundation of my life for 38 years.  David Williams – site Admin.)

THE DISCIPLINE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT

Scripture Reading: Rom. 8:28; Matt. 10:29-31; Jer. 48:11; Gen. 47:7-10

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.  (Romans 8:28)

Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows. (Matthew 10:29-31)

Moab hath been at ease from his youth, and he hath settled on his lees, and hath not been emptied from vessel to vessel, neither hath he gone into captivity: therefore his taste remained in him, and his scent is not changed.  (Jeremiah 48:11)

And Joseph brought in Jacob his father, and set him before Pharaoh: and Jacob blessed Pharaoh. And Pharaoh said unto Jacob, How old art thou? And Jacob said unto Pharaoh, The days of the years of my pilgrimage are an hundred and thirty years: few and evil have the days of the years of my life been, and have not attained unto the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their pilgrimage. And Jacob blessed Pharaoh, and went out from before Pharaoh. (Genesis 47:7-10)

We have believed in the Lord and have received a new life. But there are many habits which we acquired before we believed in the Lord. Many character traits and aspects of our disposition were part of us before we believed in the Lord. Those habits, character traits, and disposition have now become a frustration to the expression of the new life. This is the reason many people do not touch the new life or experience the Lord when they meet us. Often, others touch our old person. We may be very clever, but our cleverness is an unregenerated cleverness. We may be very warm, but that warmth is an unregenerated warmth. We may meet someone who is very gentle or very quick, but their gentleness and quickness are unregenerated gentleness and quickness. These old traits frustrate others from touching the Lord.

From the day we were saved, the Lord has been doing two things in us. On the one hand, He is tearing down our old habits, character, and disposition. This is the only way for Christ to express His life freely through us. If the Lord does not perform this work, His life will be frustrated by our natural life. On the other hand, the Holy Spirit is creating a new nature and a new character in us little by little, with its new living and new habits. The Lord is not only tearing down the old but also constituting us with the new. There is not only a negative tearing-down work, but also a positive constituting work in us. These are the two aspects of the Lord’s work in us after our we are saved.

I. GOD BEING THE ONE WHO DOES THE WORK

After they are saved, many believers realize that their own person needs to be completely torn down. Yet they are too clever; they try to use artificial means to tear down their old nature, character, and habits. But the first thing God will tear down is our artificial means. Brothers and sisters, it is futile and even troublesome to use human energy to try to tear down the very nature, character, and habits which were built up by human energy in the past. We must realize from the very beginning that everything of the past must be torn down. But we cannot tear it down ourselves. Man’s own effort to tear himself down will only result in outward adornment; it will only hinder the growth of the spiritual life. We do not need to tear ourselves down; God will do it for us.

We must be clear that it is God who wants to do this and God who does it. We do not have to come up with a way to deal with ourselves. God wants us to commit the entire work into His hands. We must be firmly impressed with this fundamental concept. God will work on us if He is merciful to us. God will order an environment that tears down our outward man. God knows how much there is that needs to be destroyed. He also knows our stubborn and strong spots. We may be too fast, too slow, too loose, or too legal in certain areas. Only God knows our need; no one else knows, not even ourselves. God is the only One who knows us thoroughly. We must allow Him to do the work.

In order to clarify the breaking and constituting work in us, we will use the phrase the discipline of the Holy Spirit for now. Although our whole environment is ordered by God, it is the Holy Spirit who applies this arrangement to us. God arranges the outward environment, but the Holy Spirit translates this arrangement into something inward and applies it to us. This conversion of outward events to inward experience is called the discipline of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, God orders the environment through the Holy Spirit; He does not order our lives directly but rather does so through the Holy Spirit. The dispensation between the Lord’s ascension and His coming again is the dispensation of the Holy Spirit. In this dispensation all of God’s work is carried out through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit arranges everything in the environment and provides inward guidance to God’s children. There are a few passages in the book of Acts which say that the Holy Spirit prompted, stopped, and forbade. We call the environmental arrangements of the Holy Spirit and the inner prompting, stopping, and forbidding “the discipline of the Holy Spirit.” This means that the Holy Spirit is disciplining us through all these experiences.

This discipline is not only for our guidance but also for our disposition. It involves not only our ways but also our character. We have a new life within us; the Spirit of God is dwelling in us. He knows what we need, and He knows the kind of experience that will bring us the most benefit. The discipline of the Holy Spirit is God’s ordering of the proper environment through the Holy Spirit in order to meet our need and accomplish His work of breaking and constituting us. Thus, the discipline of the Holy Spirit destroys our natural disposition and habits and brings in the constitution of the Holy Spirit in maturity and in sweetness.

Our environment is altogether arranged by God. Even our hairs are numbered. If no sparrow falls on the ground without our Father’s permission, how much more is our environment under His caring hand? A harsh word, an unkind gesture, a misfortune, an unfulfilled wish, a sudden loss of health, an abrupt departure of loved ones—all these are measured by the Father. Whether it be happiness, affliction, health, sickness, joy, or pain, everything that comes our way is approved by the Father. God arranges the environment for the purpose of destroying our old character and disposition and reconstituting us with a new character and disposition. God arranges the necessary environment for us, and unconsciously, we are broken and the Holy Spirit is constituted into us so that we acquire a character and disposition that resembles God. This God-like character and disposition will be expressed through us day by day.

As soon as we believe in the Lord, we should be clear about a few things: First, we need to be torn down, and then we need to be built up again. Second, we do not do the tearing-down and building-up work ourselves; God arranges the environment to tear us down and build us up.

II. HOW GOD ARRANGES EVERYTHING

How does God arrange everything for our good?

Everyone is different in nature, character, living, and habit. This is why we all need a different kind of breaking work. The kinds of discipline that God arranges are as varied as the number of people there are. Everyone is put into a different set of situations. A husband and a wife may be very close to each other, yet God will arrange a different environment for each of them. A father and a son, or a mother and a daughter, may likewise be very close to each other. Yet God arranges a different environment for each of them. In operating through our environment, God measures discipline to each one of us according to our individual needs.

Every arrangement of God is with the view of training us. Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” In Greek all things means “everything.” All does not mean a hundred thousand things or even a million things. We cannot tell how big the number is. Everything, all things are arranged by God for our good.

Therefore, nothing comes to us by accident. With us there is no coincidence. All things are arranged by God. From our point of view, our experience may seem confusing and puzzling; we may not see the intrinsic meaning behind everything, and we may not understand what it means. But God’s Word says that all things work together for our good. We do not know what thing will bring us what kind of good. Neither do we know how many things are waiting for us and what good we will gain from them. But there is one thing we do know: Everything works together for our good. Nothing will happen to us that does not bring us good. We must see clearly that God’s arrangement is to produce holiness in our character. We do not work out this holiness in ourselves; God is the One who creates this holy character in us through our environment.

One illustration will serve to explain how all things work together for our good. In Hangchow there are many silk weavers. Weaving involves many threads and colors. If one looks at the fabric from the back, everything seems to be a mess. An outsider will be puzzled; he will not know what pattern is on the other side of the fabric. But if he turns the fabric right side up, he will find beautiful figures, flowers, mountains, or rivers on it. Nothing is clear while the fabric is being woven; one sees only red and green threads moving back and forth. Likewise, our experience seemingly moves back and forth like a puzzle. We do not know what design God has in mind. But every “thread” which God uses, every discipline from His hand, has its special function. Every color is there for a purpose, and the design is prearranged. God arranges our environment for the purpose of creating holiness in our character. Every encounter is meaningful. We may not be clear today, but one day we will be clear. Some of the things may not look that nice at the moment. But when we look back after some time, we will surely know why the Lord has done what He has done and what His purpose was for doing it.

III. OUR ATTITUDE

What should our attitude be when we face all these things?

Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” In other words, when God works, it is possible for us to receive the good, and it is also possible for us not to receive the good. This is quite related to our attitude. Our attitude even determines how soon we will receive the good. If our attitude is right, we will receive the good immediately. If we love God, everything that is of God will work for our good. If a man claims that he has no choice of his own, that he asks nothing for himself, and that he only wants everything that God gives to him, he should have only one desire in his heart—to love God. If he loves the Lord with all his heart, all of the things around him will work together in love and for his good, no matter how confusing they may seem.

When something happens to us and we do not have the love of God within us, when we crave and seek things for ourselves, or when we pursue private interests apart from God, the good that God has reserved for us will not come. We are very good at complaining, struggling, murmuring, and groaning about many things. Brothers and sisters, please bear in mind that although all things do work together for good, we will not receive the good immediately if our hearts do not love God. Many of God’s children have indeed encountered many problems, but they have not received any good. They experience much discipline, and God has arranged many things around them, but these things do not result in any riches on their part. The only reason for this poverty is that they have other goals besides God. Their hearts are not pliable towards God. They do not feel God’s love; neither do they love God. They have a wrong attitude. As a result, they may have received many dealings, yet nothing remains in their spirit.

May God be merciful to us that we learn to love Him from our hearts as soon as we become Christians. Being short in knowledge does not mean much, because the way to know God lies in love, not in knowledge. If a man loves God, he will know God even though he may lack knowledge. However, if he knows much but does not love God in his heart, all of his knowledge will not help him to know God. There is a good line in one hymn: “To bring thee to thy God,/Love takes the shortest route” (Hymns, #477). If a man loves God, whatever he encounters will turn out to his good.

Our heart must love God, and we must learn to know His hand and humble ourselves under it. If we do not see His hand, our eyes will be distracted by men. We will feel that others are wrong or have betrayed us. We will feel that our brothers, sisters, siblings, parents, and friends are all wrong. As we condemn everyone, we fall into disappointment and disillusion ourselves, and nothing works to our good. When we say that the brothers and sisters in the church are all wrong and that nothing is right and everything is wrong, we are gaining nothing for ourselves except anger and criticism. If we remember the Lord Jesus’ word, that “…and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father.” (Matt. 10:29), and if we realize that everything is of God, we will humble ourselves under His hand and receive the good.

Psalm 39:9 says, “I was dumb, I opened not my mouth; because thou didst it.” This is the attitude of one who obeys God. Because God has done it and because God has allowed it to come upon us for our good, we humble ourselves and say nothing. We will not say, “Why did that happen to others, and why is this happening to me?” When we love God and know His hand, we will not open our mouth. In this way we will witness God’s breaking and constituting work in us.

Some may ask, “Should we accept everything from Satan’s hand too?” The basic principle is that we will take whatever God allows to come upon us. As for attacks from Satan, we have to resist.

IV. BREAKING AND CONSTITUTING

The Lord causes many things to come our way, few of which are according to our preference. This is why the Bible charges, “Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice.” (Phil. 4:4). We should rejoice in the Lord. This is the only way we can rejoice always. Besides the Lord, what can make us rejoice always? Why does God allow all the bad things to come upon us? What is His purpose for doing these things? His goal is to break down our natural life. If we read Jeremiah 48:11, we will be clear.

Jeremiah 48:11 says, “Moab hath been at ease from his youth, and he hath settled on his lees, and hath not been emptied from vessel to vessel, neither hath he gone into captivity: therefore his taste remained in him, and his scent is not changed.” The Moabites were the descendants of Lot (Gen. 19:36-37). They were related to Abraham but were of the flesh. Moab was at ease from his youth and never experienced any tribulation, trial, blow, suffering, or pain. Nothing happened to him that would cause him to shed tears; nothing ever rent his heart or frustrated his way. In man’s eyes this is such a blessing. But what did God say about the Moabites? He said, “…he hath settled on his lees, and hath not been emptied from vessel to vessel.” For wine to settle on its lees means that the liquid is a mixture. When wine ferments, the top part becomes clear liquid, while the lees sink to the bottom. As soon as the vessel is shaken, the lees and the liquid mix together again. In order to have a clear liquid, one has to pour the wine from one vessel to another. In the old days there was no filter, and the only way to remove the lees was to pour the liquid from one vessel to another. The liquid and the lees were originally mixed together. By pouring the liquid from one vessel to another, the lees were left behind. Sometimes some lees would escape with the liquid to the other vessel, and there would be the need to pour the liquid to yet another vessel. This would go on and on until all the lees were gone. Moab was never emptied from one vessel to another. He was like wine settled on its lees. His “lees” were not yet removed. This is why it says that “…therefore his taste remained in him, and his scent is not changed.” Moab always tasted like Moab. His scent remained the scent of Moab. His condition had not changed since the first day. But God is not after the old scent. He wants to change the scent.

Some have been believers for ten years, yet their taste remains the same as it was ten years ago. They are like Moab, whose taste remained and whose scent was not changed. Some people were sloppy when they first believed in the Lord. After twenty years they are still sloppy. They lived in ignorance and foolishness the first day, and they still live in ignorance and foolishness today. Their taste remains the same, and their scent is not changed. God does not want this. God wants to remove our old habit, nature, and character; He wants to remove every undesirable element in us. He wants to empty us from this vessel to that vessel and from that vessel to another vessel. After being emptied a few times, our “lees” will be left behind, and the original taste will be gone.

Moab had an easy life, but as a result, “his taste remained in him, and his scent is not changed.” Perhaps our life is not as easy as Moab’s. Perhaps we have not been “at ease from…youth.” Perhaps we have had to go through “many tribulations” like Paul (Acts 14:22). If so, we should realize that the Lord is removing our lees and our original taste. The Lord wants to take away our own taste and natural scent. The old things must be torn down. The Lord has to uproot them all. He is pouring us from one vessel to another and then to a third. He allows this to happen to us today and that to happen to us tomorrow. The Lord turns us from one environment to another, from one experience to another. Each time He arranges an environment around us and breaks us, we will shed some of our old taste and scent. Time after time we will be purified of our old taste. Every day we will be a little different than the day before, and the next day we will be different still further. This is the way the Lord works in us; He tears down a little today and a little tomorrow, until all our lees are gone, our taste is lost, and our scent is changed.

God is not only breaking us on the negative side but also constituting us on the positive side. From the life of Jacob in Genesis, we can see the meaning of constitution.

Jacob’s life began from a low point. He struggled with his older brother in his mother’s womb and strove to be the firstborn by holding on to his brother’s heel. He was crafty and greedy, always deceitful and taking advantage of others. He deceived his own father, brother, and uncle. But in the end he was deceived by his uncle and his sons. He tried his best to prosper, but in the end he found himself in a famine. We can say that Jacob’s way was fraught with suffering. Some people spend their lives in ease and comfort, but Jacob’s life was full of affliction.

While he was going through his sufferings, God was breaking him down again and again. He suffered one thing after another. Every experience he went through was a suffering to him. But thank God, after going through so much suffering in His hand, he finally acquired a touch of God’s holiness. We see this when he was in Egypt. There we see a gentle, humble, bright, and dignified man. He was so meek and humble that he could ask for grace and mercy from his son. Yet he was so crystal clear that he could utter prophecies which Abraham could not utter. He could give blessings which Isaac could not give. He was so dignified that even Pharaoh bowed his head to receive his blessing. This shows us that through God’s breaking work, the lowly Jacob had become someone God could use. Jacob had become a man of God!

After years of breaking, God constituted Jacob with Himself. This is why we can see such a beautiful picture at Jacob’s deathbed when he leaned on the top of his rod and worshipped God. Though he was sick in bed, he could still lean on the top of his staff and worship God. This proves that he still remembered his pilgrim life and had not given up his pilgrim characteristic. At first he struggled to sit up, put his feet down by the bed, and prophesied. After prophesying, he gathered up his feet, gave up his breath, and died. The way he died was beautiful! This is indeed a beautiful picture.

We can muse carefully upon the whole life of Jacob. At the time he was born, I am afraid no one had a worse “taste” than he had. But when he left the world, his old taste was gone altogether. What we see is a man fully constituted by God.

We must realize that everything that comes upon us is for our edification one way or another. God tears us down through all kinds of sufferings. The tearing down can be quite painful. But after we pass through these trials, something will be constituted into us. In other words, when trials arise, it may appear that we are failing, but His grace will always carry us through. In the process of overcoming our trials, something is wrought into us. As we overcome our trials again and again, the constitution within us grows day by day. On the one hand, God puts us through difficult circumstances and tears us down through our trials. On the other hand, something is added into us as we rise from our trials.

Thank God that we have the discipline of the Holy Spirit. May God have mercy on us. May He break us and constitute us through the discipline of the Holy Spirit so that we may reach maturity.

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(Written originally by Watchman Nee in China during the Chinese revolution and died in a prison camp but these lessons have been the foundation of my life for 38 years.  David Williams – site Admin.)

 

THE CHASTENING OF GOD

Scripture Reading: Heb. 12:4-13

Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin. And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness. Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby. Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees; And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed.  (Hebrews 12:4-13)

 

I. THE PROPER ATTITUDE OF THOSE UNDER CHASTENING

A. Struggling against Sin, Having Not Yet Resisted unto Blood

Let us consider Hebrews 12:4-13, point by point.

Verse 4 says, “Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin.” In this verse the apostle said that the Hebrew believers had struggled against sin. But even though they had suffered much, gone through great trials, encountered various problems, and met with much persecution, they had not yet resisted unto blood. If we compare these sufferings with that of our Lord, they are quite light! Verse 2 tells us that the Lord Jesus despised the shame and endured the suffering of the cross. What a believer goes through is far less severe than what the Lord went through! The Lord Jesus despised the shame and endured the suffering of the cross unto the shedding of blood. Although the Hebrew believers also suffered some shame and endured the cross, they had not yet resisted unto blood.

B. Finding the Reasons for Our Sufferings

What should a person expect after he becomes a Christian? We should never put a false hope before the brothers. We should show them that we will encounter many problems. However, God’s purpose and meaning are behind all of them. We can expect many trials and tribulations, but what is the purpose and meaning behind all these trials and tribulations? Unless the Lord grants us the privilege of becoming martyrs, we will probably not have the chance to resist and struggle against sin “unto blood.” But even though it is not a resistance unto blood, we are nevertheless resisting! Why do these things happen to us?

C. Not Fainting nor Regarding Lightly

Verses 5 and 6 say, ” And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.”

The apostle quoted Proverbs in the Old Testament in this portion of the Word. He said that if the Lord chastens us, we must not regard it lightly; and if the Lord reproves us, we must not faint. A believer should adopt these two attitudes. Some regard difficulties, sufferings, and God’s chastening as insignificant matters. They do not think much of them and easily allow God’s chastening to slip by. There are also some who faint when they go through the Lord’s reproach and fall into His hand. As Christians they feel that they have suffered too much hardship in their environment and that it is too hard to live the Christian life. They expect their way to be smooth. Their thought is on entering the pearly gates and walking on a golden street wearing fine, white linen garments. It never occurred to them that Christians would experience all kinds of difficulties. They are not prepared to be Christians under such circumstances. They faint and waver at the difficulties along the way. Proverbs shows us that both of these attitudes are wrong.

D. Not Regarding Lightly the Chastening of the Lord

God’s children should not regard lightly the chastening of the Lord. If the Lord chastens us, we have to pay attention to it. Everything the Lord measures to us has a purpose and meaning to it. He wants to build us up through our experiences and environment. All of His chastening is for the purpose of perfecting us and making us holy. All of His chastening works His nature into our nature. As a result, we become chastened in our character. This is the purpose of the Lord’s chastening. He does not chastening us without reason. He chastens us for the purpose of making us vessels. The Lord does not allow suffering to come to His children without a cause. We do not suffer for the purpose of suffering. He does not give us tribulation simply to make us suffer. The purpose in all our suffering is that we would partake of God’s holiness and nature. This is the goal of chastening.

Many children of God have been Christians for eight or ten years, yet they have never given serious consideration to God’s chastening. They never say, “The Lord is disciplining me. He is dealing with me, chastising me, and molding me into a vessel.” They do not see the purpose of God’s chastisement, dealing, and carving work. They go through their experiences capriciously. They are not bothered by what they see today; they let it slip by. They are not bothered by what they see the next day; they are not concerned about what the Lord’s will is, and they disregard it time after time. To them it is as if God purposelessly allows people to suffer. Please bear in mind that the first reaction of God’s children should be to respect and honor God’s chastening. The first thing we should do when we experience something is to find the meaning of our experience: Why have things happened this way? We must learn to respect and honor God’s chastening. We should not regard it lightly. To regard it lightly is to be careless about it. It is to say that God can do whatever He wants to do and that we must simply go through these experiences mindlessly and aimlessly.

On the one hand, we should not regard the chastening lightly. On the other hand, we should not make too much of it. If the Christian life became nothing but a story of suffering and frustration, it would be too much of a discouragement to us. This is to make too much of our chastening. We must learn to accept the chastening of the Lord and to see that His chastening and reproach are always meaningful. At the same time, we must not be discouraged by chastening.

II. WHOM THE LORD LOVES HE CHASTENS

Verse 6 says, “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth ” This is a quotation from Proverbs. It reveals the purpose of the Lord’s chastening.

A. Chastening Being the Arrangement of Love

God does not have the spare time to deal with all the people of the world. He chastens only those whom He loves. He chastens us because He loves us. He chastens us because He wants to make us vessels. God has no time to chastening everyone in the world, but He chastens His own children because He loves them. Therefore, chastening is God’s provision of love. Love arranges the environment that we should be in. We call this arrangement His chastening. Love measures everything that comes our way. It orders the things that we encounter in our daily life. This measurement is His chastening. Chastening is for our greatest profit and for bringing us to the loftiest goal in God’s creation.

” …and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.” All those who are chastened have the ground to say that they are received by God. Scourging is not a sign of God’s rejection; it is a proof of His acceptance. I say again, God does not have the time to deal with everyone; He wants to spend His time on the sons whom He loves and receives.

B. Chastening Being the Father’s Education

Once you become a Christian, you should be prepared to accept chastening from God’s hand. If you are not His child, God will let you go. He will allow you to live an unchastened life and walk your own way. But once you have accepted the Lord Jesus as your Savior, once you are born of God and have become His child, you have to prepare yourself for His chastening. No father has the time to chasten another man’s child. Whether his neighbor’s son is good or bad is not of his concern. A good father, however, will always chasten his own son in a definite way. He will deal with his son strictly according to guidelines that he has set in his mind. He will not chasten his son in a mindless and haphazard way. He will train his son according to a few objectives, namely, honesty, diligence, long-suffering, and noble aspirations. The father puts together a certain curriculum to chasten his son. He molds his son into a certain character. In the same way, since the day we were saved, God has been arranging a curriculum for us. He wants us to learn certain lessons so that we will be conformed to His nature. He wants us to be like Him in many things. This is why He arranges, chastens, and scourges. His goal is to make us a certain kind of person.

At the very beginning of his Christian life, a child of God must realize that God has prepared many lessons for him. He has made many provisions in the environment and has ordered many things, experiences, and sufferings for the purpose of producing a certain kind of character and disposition. This is what God is doing today. He wants to build up a certain kind of character in us, and He does it by ordering all kinds of circumstances to come our way.

The minute we become Christians, we have to realize that God’s hand is guiding us in all things. The ordained circumstances will come, and the scourgings will come. As soon as we get off the right way, His scourges will be upon us and will goad us back to the way. Every child of God should be prepared to accept God’s disciplinary hand. God chastens us because we are sons. God does not waste His time on others. He has no time to chasten those who are not His beloved sons. God has no time to reprove those who are not yet accepted as sons. Scourging and chastening are expressions of God’s love and acceptance. Only Christians can have a share in God’s scourging and chastening.

C. Chastening Not Being a Punishment but a Glory

What we are receiving is chastening; it is not punishment. Punishment is for the retribution of one’s mistakes, while chastening is for the purpose of education. Punishment comes because we have done something wrong; it responds to the past. Chastening is also related to our mistakes, but it is something for the future. Chastening bears an element of the future; it has a purpose. We have been called into the name of the Lord today; we belong to Him. Now we must be prepared to allow God to make us vessels of glory to Him. I can say with much confidence that God wants every one of His children to glorify Him in certain areas. Every child of God should glorify Him. However, each one does it in a different way. Some will glorify Him in one way, some in another way. We glorify God through different circumstances. As a consequence, God is glorified in a full way. Everyone has his own part and his own specialty. God wants to create a certain kind of character in us for the purpose of glorifying Him. No one is exempt from God’s disciplinary hand. Such a hand works to accomplish the things of God. We have never seen a child of God who was exempt from His disciplinary hand.

D. Ignorance of Chastening Being a Great Loss

It is indeed a great loss if God’s children do not understand His chastening. Many people live a foolish life in the eyes of God for many years. They have no way to go on. They do not know what the Lord wants to do in them. They walk according to their own will and wander in a wild, unrestrained, and aimless way through the wilderness. God does not operate this way. He is a God of purpose. He does things for the purpose of molding a specific character in us so that we may glorify His name. All chastening is for the purpose of bringing us on in this way.

III. ENDURING FOR GOD’S CHASTENING

The apostle quoted Proverbs when he wrote to the Hebrew believers. In verse 7 the apostle explains the quotation from Proverbs in verses 5 and 6, saying, ” If ye endure chastening,.” This is the first New Testament explanation of the subject; it is a crucial word. Here the apostle shows us that endurance, suffering, and chastening are the same thing. God is disciplining us. The apostle shows us that this disciplining is the same as our endurance. It is for chastening that we endure.

A. Suffering Being God’s Chastening

Perhaps some will ask, “What is God’s chastening? Why is He disciplining us?” Verses 2 through 4 speak of enduring the cross, despising the shame, and resisting sin, whereas verses 5 and 6 speak of chastening and scourging. What is the relation between these two things? What are the chastening and scourging in verses 5 and 6, and what are the shame, affliction, and resistance against sin in verses 2 through 4? Verse 7 is a conclusion of verses 2 through 6. It shows us that what we endure is God’s chastening. Thus, suffering, shame, and affliction are God’s chastening. Although our resistance against sin is not unto blood, the pain and tribulation are nevertheless part of God’s chastening.

How does God chasten us? His chastening has to do with whatever He is bringing us through and whatever He is charging us to endure. Do not consider God’s chastening as anything else. God’s chastening is what we endure every day, things such as harsh words, an unkind face, a sharp tongue, an impolite retort, an unreasonable criticism, unexpected troubles, various kinds of shame, irresponsibility, infractions, and other more serious problems arising in the family. Sometimes it may be sickness, poverty, affliction, or difficulty. We encounter many things and endure many things. The apostle said that all these are God’s chastening! It is for chastening that we endure.

B. No Experience Coming to Us by Accident

The question today is: What kind of response do we have when others give us an ugly look? If their look is God’s chastening, how should we react? If our business fails because others have forgotten to do something for us, how should we react? If the poor memory of another person is God’s chastening to us, what should we do? If we become sick through another’s infection, how should we deal with it? If things turn sour through various misfortunes, what do we say? If things do not go our way because God’s chastening is behind them, what should we say? Brothers and sisters, the response to all these things makes a great difference in us! We can consider everything in our environment as being a mere encounter; this is one kind of attitude. We can also consider it to be God’s chastening; this is another kind of attitude. The words of the apostle here are very clear. He says that it is for chastening that we endure. Please do not consider all these things to be unendurable. They are God’s chastening. Do not conclude foolishly that they are mere coincidence. We must realize that God daily arranges these things and measures them for our chastening and learning.

C. Chastening Being God’s Dealing with Us as with Sons

Verse 7 continues, “God deals with you as with sons.”God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?” What we experience is God’s chastening. Today all chastening comes to us because He deals with us as with sons. Please bear in mind that chastening is God’s way of honoring us, not afflicting us. Many hold the wrong concept that they are chastened by God because God wants to torture them. No! We are chastened by God because God is honoring us. He deals with us as with sons. For what son is there whom the father does not chasten? Chastening is God’s honoring of us! We have become God’s sons; therefore, we must be chastened. God chastens us in order to bring us to the place of blessing and glory. We should never think that we are tormented by God. For what son is there whom the father does not chasten?

D. Seeing the Father’s Hand

We see a big contrast when a person understands that what is happening to him is of God; he will have a different view toward his experience. If someone hits me with a cane today, I may argue with him or snatch the cane from him. I may break it and throw it back in his face. I have not done him any injustice in doing this. However, if my Father chastises me with the cane, can I snatch the cane, break it, and throw it back? I cannot do this. On the contrary, we feel somewhat privileged that our Father would chasten us. Madam Guyon said, “I will kiss the whip that chastises me! I will kiss the hand that buffets me!” Please remember that this is the Father’s hand and the Father’s rod. This is different. If it were some ordinary experience, we would not miss anything by rejecting it. But this is no ordinary encounter; this is God’s hand and God’s chastisement, the goal of which is to make us a partaker of His nature and character. Once we see this, we will not murmur and complain. As soon as a person realizes that his Father is the one who is dealing with him, his feelings change. Our God is dealing with us as with sons. It is a glory that He chastens us today.

E. Chastening Being the Proof That We Are Sons

Verse 8 says, “But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.” Remember that chastening is the proof that one is a son. God’s sons are those who are chastened by Him, and those who are without chastening are not His sons. A person has no proof that he is a son of God if he is not chastened by God. The proof that one is a son is the chastening he receives.

All sons have become partakers of chastening. Every child of God needs to be chastened, and you are no exception. Unless you are illegitimate, one who is adopted or bought, you must accept the same chastening! The apostle’s word here is strong. All sons have become partakers of chastening. Do not expect to be treated differently if you are a son of God. All sons have become partakers of chastening. Everyone is treated the same way. Everyone who lived in Paul’s time or Peter’s time experienced this. Today this is true for everyone in every nation throughout the world. No one is exempted. You cannot take a way which no other child of God has ever walked. No child of God has ever taken a way that is free from chastening. If any child of God is foolish enough to think that there can be smooth sailing in his living and work and that he can be spared God’s chastening, he is saying that he is illegitimate, that is, one who is adopted. We must see that chastening is the sign and proof that we are God’s children. Those who are without chastening are illegitimate; they belong to other families and are not members of the household of God. If God does not chastening us, it means that we do not belong to His family.

Let me mention something that I once saw. It may not be that profound, yet it serves as a good illustration. Five or six children were playing rambunctiously together; their bodies were covered in mud. When the mother of three of the children came, she spanked her children on their hands and forbade them to dirty themselves again. After she spanked them, one asked, “Why did you not spank the others?” The mother answered, “They are not my children.” No mother wants to chasten other people’s children. It would be terrible if God did not chastening us! Those who are without chastening are illegitimate, not sons! We have truly believed in the Lord. Since the first day of our Christian life, chastisement has been coming our way. We cannot remain a child of God yet be spared chastening. We cannot receive the sonship of God without receiving chastisement. These two things go together. We cannot receive the sonship without accepting the chastening! All sons must be chastened, and we are no exception.

IV. BEING SUBJECT TO THE CHASTENING OF THE FATHER OF SPIRITS

Verse 9 says, ” Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?” The apostle pointed out that the fathers of our flesh chastening us and we respect them. We acknowledge that their chastening is right, and we accept it. Shall we not much more be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live?

This shows us that the matter of sonship leads to the matter of chastening, and chastening issues in submission. Because we are sons, there is chastening; since there is chastening, there must also be submission on our part. God orders everything in our environment for the purpose of teaching us. It walls us in so that we have no choice but to take His way.

A. Being Subject to God in Two Matters

We must obey God in two matters: One is to obey God’s commandments, and the other is to obey His chastening. On the one hand, we have to obey God’s word, that is, His commandments. We have to obey all of God’s ordinances written in the Bible. On the other hand, we must subject ourselves to God’s arrangement in the environment. We must obey His chastening. Often, obedience to God’s word is enough. But there are times when we have to subject ourselves to God’s chastening as well. God has ordered many things in our environment, and we must gain profit and learn lessons from these things. This is the profit God has ordained for us. He wants to lead us to the straight path. We must learn to obey not only His commandments but also His chastening. Obedience to God’s chastening may involve a price, but it puts us on the straight path.

Obedience is not an empty word. Quite a number of the brothers ask, “What should I obey?” The answer to this question is simple. We may think that we have nothing to obey, but when God chastens us a little, we immediately think of ways of escape. It is strange that many people seem to have no commandment to obey! Please bear in mind that when God’s hand of chastening is upon us, that is the very time we have to obey. Some may ask, “Why do you not call God’s hand the hand of guidance? Why do you call it the hand of chastening? Why do you not say that God is guiding us all the way, rather than God is disciplining us?” God knows how terrible our temper is, and we also know. There are many people to whom obedience will never come without proper chastening.

B. Learning Obedience through Chastening

We should know the kind of person we are in the eyes of God. We are rebellious and stubborn by nature. We are like naughty children who will not obey unless their father has a rod in his hand. Every one of us is the same. Some sons will never obey unless they are rebuked or scourged. They have to be spanked before they will pay attention. Please bear in mind that this is the kind of person we are! We pay attention only when we are spanked. If we are not spanked, we turn our face the other way. This is why chastening is absolutely necessary. We should know ourselves. We are not that simple. Even a spanking may not change us that much. The apostle showed us that chastisement is for the purpose of humbling us and making us obedient. He said, “Be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live.” Submission and obedience are indispensable virtues. We must learn to obey God and say, “God, I am willing to subject myself to Your chastening! Whatever You do is right!”

V. CHASTENING BEING FOR OUR BENEFIT

Verse 10 says, “For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness.” Often parents chastening their children in a poor way, because they act and chastening according to their own whims. Not much benefit will come out of this chastening.

“… but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness.” This is not a chastening driven by temper nor a chastening that is merely a punishment. No chastening or reproach of God is merely a punishment; it is educational in nature, and it is there for our profit. The purpose of chastening is not just to hurt us. The hurt produces something; it is there for a purpose. He does not punish us simply because we have done something wrong. Whoever thinks this way is altogether in the realm of the law and the courtroom.

A. Partakers of His Holiness

What is the benefit of such chastening? It is to make us partakers of His holiness. This is glorious! Holiness is God’s nature. We may say that holiness is also God’s character. It is for this that God uses many ways to chasten His children. From the time we believed in the Lord, God has been disciplining us. He chastens us with the view that we may partake of His holiness, His nature, and His character. The Bible speaks of a few kinds of holiness. The holiness in Hebrews specifically refers to God’s character. For Christ to become our holiness is one thing. For us to be sanctified in Christ is another thing. The holiness spoken of here is something wrought into us; it is not a gift. It has to do with our constitution. This is something we have been emphasizing for years. This means that God works something into us in a gradual way. The holiness here is a holiness that is constituted through His chastening, something constituted through His scourging and daily, inner working. His chastening and operation are for the purpose of making us partakers of His holiness.

After we suffer a little chastisement, we partake of His holiness. After we suffer more chastisement, we learn more holiness. If we remain under God’s chastening, we will gradually realize what holiness is. If we continue under God’s chastening, there will be a gradual constitution of holiness into our character. If we stay under God’s chastening all the way to the end, we will become holy in our character. Nothing is more crucial than this! We must realize that the result of chastening is the constitution of God’s character into our being. All chastening has results, and we should reap the fruit from all of them. May the Lord be merciful to us so that His chastening, whenever it is upon us, may produce a little more holiness. May it result in more holiness, in more lessons learned, and in more constitution of God. Holiness must continually increase in us!

B. The Constitution of a Holy Character

After we accept the Lord and become God’s children, He daily arranges many things in our environment to chasten and chastise us. All these things are lessons to us. Time after time these lessons come to us for the purpose of adding His holiness to us. We need much chastening before God can work out a holy character in us! In the eyes of God we have only a limited number of years to live our Christian life. If we neglect God’s chastening, and if it does not produce the needed effect in us, our loss will be an eternal loss indeed!

C. Holiness as a Gift and Holiness as a Constitution

God not only gives us His holiness as a gift, but He also wants us to partake of His holiness through His chastening. He wants us to be constituted with His holiness; He wants to wrought holiness into our being little by little. Carnal persons like us require years of chastening from God before His holy character and nature can become ours. We need all kinds of blows, situations, guidance, frustrations, urgings, and chastisement before we can partake of God’s holy character. This is a great matter! God does not merely give us holiness as a gift. This holiness must be wrought into us. God has to constitute us with His holiness!

This is one distinctive feature of salvation in the New Testament. God first gives us something, and then He works the same thing into us. He constitutes us with the same thing little by little. When we have both aspects, we have full salvation. One is a gift from Christ, and the other is a constitution of the Holy Spirit. This is a distinctive feature of the New Testament. One is a gift, and the other is a constitution. Among all the crucial things in the New Testament, there is this clear statement: God is making us partakers of His holiness through His chastening.

VI. THE PEACEABLE FRUIT OF RIGHTEOUSNESS YIELDED THROUGH CHASTENING

Verse 11 says, “Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.”

Here the apostle draws special attention to the words at the present time and afterward. It is a fact that one does not feel happy at the time of chastening, but grievous. Do not think that suffering is wrong when you experience God’s chastening. Chastening is surely a suffering. The Bible does not say that the cross is a joy. It says rather that the cross is affliction. The cross brings us suffering. The Lord despised the shame for the joy set before Him. This is a fact. The Bible does not say that the cross is a joy; the cross is not a joy. It is always a suffering. It is not wrong to grieve and feel afflicted when we are chastened.

But we must learn obedience. Only through obedience can we partake of God’s holiness. Chastening indeed is not a matter of joy “at the present time.” Instead, it is grief to us. This is not surprising; it is in fact quite normal for us to feel this way. Our Lord did not consider the trials a matter of joy when He passed through them. Of course, we can make it a matter of joy. Peter said that we can exult in various trials (1 Pet. 1:6). On the one hand, they are a suffering. On the other hand, we can reckon them to be a joy. How we feel is one thing, and how we reckon is another thing. We can feel grieved, but at the same time, we can reckon it to be a joy.

A. Yielding the Peaceable Fruit

A child of God should fix his eyes not on the present but on the future. Pay attention to this sentence: “Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.” Do not look at the suffering you are going through now. Instead, look at the resulting peaceable fruit of righteousness.

B. Moab Being at Ease from His Youth and Settling on His Lees

Jeremiah 48:11 says, “Moab hath been at ease from his youth, and he hath settled on his lees, and hath not been emptied from vessel to vessel, neither hath he gone into captivity: therefore his taste remained in him, and his scent is not changed.” Are you clear what this is saying?

This is the problem with many who have not passed through trials. The passage describes those who have never suffered any chastisement or sufferings before the Lord. The Moabites had been at ease from their youth. They experienced no suffering or pain. What did such ease produce? They became like wine settled on its lees. If a person brews liquor from grapes or other kinds of fruit, the wine surfaces to the top, while the lees settle to the bottom. The wine floats, while the lees sink. In order to clear the wine, it has to be poured from vessel to vessel. If the lees remain at the bottom, sooner or later they will spoil the taste of the liquor. In making wine, a man must first allow the grapes to ferment. After the grapes ferment, he transfers the wine from one vessel to another. If he is not careful, he will pour the lees out as well. This is why he has to pour carefully. But one pouring is not enough; some lees are bound to escape into the other vessel. This is why he has to do this again. A second time may still not clear the lees, and he has to pour the wine into a third vessel. He has to keep pouring until no lees are left in the wine. God said that Moab had been at ease from his youth and had settled on his lees. He had not been emptied from vessel to vessel, and his lees always followed him. One must be emptied from vessel to vessel if he wants to do away with the lees. He has to be poured out again and again until one day the lees at the bottom are gone. Moab was full of lees; although he was clear at the top, he was not emptied at the bottom. Those who have never gone through trials and chastisement have never been emptied from vessel to vessel. (Note – we must state that we don’t believe in drinking wine, only grape juice.  This illustration is only because of the word lees in scripture.)

Often it seems as if God is digging a person from his roots. A brother may experience God’s uprooting through his consecration; everything that he owns may be completely uprooted. A brother may experience God’s uprooting through his sufferings and trials; he may be stripped of everything he has. This is to be emptied from vessel to vessel. God’s hand will crush us thoroughly. He does this in order to clear away our lees!

To be at ease is not a good thing. Brothers and sisters, God wants to purify us. This is why He chastens and scourges us. Never consider ease and comfort to be something good. Moab’s ease caused him to remain Moab forever!

C. Taste Remaining, Scent Not Changing

Here are some sobering words: “…therefore his taste remained in him, and his scent is not changed.” Because Moab was not emptied from vat to vat, from pot to pot, and from vessel to vessel, and because he was never chastened and dealt with by God, his taste remained in him and his scent never changed!

Brothers, this is why God has to work on you. He wants to take away your taste and change your scent. God does not want your own taste and scent. I once said that many people are “raw” because they are still in their original state. They have never changed. You had a certain kind of taste before you believed in the Lord. Today you may have been a believer for ten years, yet your taste is still the same. Your scent remains the same as it was before you believed in the Lord. The word scent in Hebrew means “smell,” which is the flavor of something in its original state. You had a certain smell before you were saved. Today you have the same smell; there is no change in you at all. In other words, you have not experienced any of God’s constitution and carving.

God’s chastening is indeed precious! He wants to uproot us and to empty us from vessel to vessel. God chastens us and deals with us in many ways so that we may lose our original smell and yield the peaceable fruit. The peaceable fruit of righteousness can be translated as “the peaceable fruit, which is the fruit of righteousness.”

D. The Peaceable Fruit Being the Fruit of Righteousness

Please remember that the fruit is peaceable. A man must be at peace with God in order to obtain this fruit. The worst thing one can do is to murmur, to lose his peace, and to rebel during times of chastening. One can be grieved by the chastening, but he should not murmur or rebel. The problem with many people is that they have no peace. This is why we need the peaceable fruit when we are under chastening. If you want the peaceable fruit, you must first learn to accept the chastening. You must learn not to fight with God or argue with Him. The peaceable fruit is the fruit of righteousness. Once you have the fruit of peace, you have the fruit of righteousness. This is why the apostle said, “The peaceable fruit, which is the fruit of righteousness.” Peace is righteousness. If the inward fruit is peace, the outward expression is righteousness. If you have the fruit of peace within, you will spontaneously partake of God’s holiness.

I hope that none of us would be like Moab, who was at ease from his youth and who had settled on his lees. He had not been emptied from vessel to vessel and had never gone into captivity. Therefore, his taste remained in him and his scent was not changed. Some have been Christians for ten or twenty years and have remained the same throughout this time. They have not accepted any of God’s dealings and have not subjected themselves to them. Thus, their taste remains the same. If our scent remains the same for ten or twenty years, it means that we have never yielded any peaceable fruit before God and have never been constituted with a holy character. Our hope is that God would constitute us with something, something called a holy character.

VII. CONCLUSION

Hebrews 12:12-13 says, “Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees; And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed.” Sometimes it seems that chastening makes the hands hang down and the knees paralyzed. But the apostle told us not to be disheartened. The hands may hang down and the knees may be paralyzed, but there is the fruit of peace and the fruit of righteousness.

A. Setting Straight the Hands and the Knees

Do not think that after a person suffers much hardship and chastening, there is nothing more to be done. After we are chastened and scourged, we need to set straight the hands which hang down and the paralyzed knees. Chastening and scourging will yield the fruit of peace. This fruit of peace is the fruit of righteousness. If a person is at peace with God, he will have righteousness. As soon as we calm ourselves down and submit to God, everything becomes right and proper. As soon as we humble ourselves, we become constituted with a holy character. The fruit of peace is the fruit of righteousness. Do not set your eyes on righteousness. Just consider whether or not you are at peace, and whether or not you are obedient and pliable. If you are pliable and obedient, and if you are at peace, you will surely be constituted with holiness. Please bear in mind that even though you may have endured many trials and experienced many hardships in the past, there is still the need for you to set straight your hands which hang down and your paralyzed knees.

B. Making Straight the Paths

At the same time, you need to “make straight paths for your feet.” Today we can say that we have somewhat passed through this way. We are presenting this way clearly before you. “… lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed ” Those who are falling behind do not need to be put out of joint any longer; they can be healed and join the others who have passed the same straight course. If a person goes through trials and humbles himself under God’s mighty hand, he will find his character constituted with holiness. He will also lead many to this straight course; they will no longer be put out of joint but will be healed.

If a brother is before us and he veers off, his deviation may discourage others from finding the right course. This is why we must be obedient ourselves. We must bear the fruit of peace ourselves. This will not only ensure that we are on the right course, but also will open up the right course for others to follow. All the lame ones can take this way; they can all be healed. I recall the lame man in Acts 3. When his feet were made strong and he began to walk, he stood up, walked, leaped, and praised God. A lame man was healed, but there are many lame ones in this world today. They can all be healed by the straight course we take. We must open a way for all the brothers to follow.

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(Written originally by Watchman Nee in China during the Chinese revolution and died in a prison camp but these lessons have been the foundation of my life for 38 years.  David Williams – site Admin.)

GOVERNMENTAL FORGIVENESS

There are at least four different kinds of forgiveness in the Bible. We will give a different name to each of them: First, there is eternal forgiveness. Second, there is instrumental forgiveness. Third, there is forgiveness in fellowship. Fourth, there is governmental forgiveness. If a believer desires to run a straight course in his spiritual pursuit, he must learn the meaning of God’s governmental forgiveness. We will first distinguish the differences between these kinds of forgiveness, and then we will speak about governmental forgiveness.

I. ETERNAL FORGIVENESS

Let us call the forgiveness that comes with our salvation God’s eternal forgiveness. This is the forgiveness spoken of by the Lord Jesus in Luke 24:47: “And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” This is eternal forgiveness. The forgiveness spoken of in Romans 4:7 is eternal forgiveness as well.

This forgiveness is called eternal forgiveness because once God forgives our sins, He forgives them eternally. God casts our sins into the depths of the sea and the abyss. He no longer sees or remembers our sins. This is the forgiveness we obtained at the time we were saved. The moment we believe in the Lord Jesus, we are forgiven of all our sins; the Lord removes all of our sins, and we are left with no trace of sin before God. This is called eternal forgiveness.

II. INSTRUMENTAL FORGIVENESS

God often tells man directly, “I forgive you.” But often He declares His forgiveness through the church: “God has forgiven your sins.” Therefore, the Bible shows us another kind of forgiveness which we call instrumental forgiveness. John 20:22-23 says, “And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost: Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.” In sending the Holy Spirit to His church, the Lord charged the church to be His representative on earth. The church has become His vessel. Forgiveness is now granted through the church. This is called instrumental forgiveness. However, we must be careful not to fall into the kind of forgiveness taught by the Catholics. We must realize that the basis of instrumental forgiveness is the Lord’s breathing into the church and saying to the church, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” After the church receives the Holy Spirit, it has the power to retain and forgive sins. The church can declare that the sins of certain ones are retained, while the sins of others are forgiven. The church has such authority because it is under the authority of the Holy Spirit. The Lord breathed into the disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit!” After this He said, “Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained..” This is a kind of indirect forgiveness. In this forgiveness God forgives men through the church; the church acts as His channel.

In preaching the gospel, we often find sinners who are awakened to their sin by our word. We bring them to the Lord, and they confess that they are sinners. They pray for forgiveness with weeping and tears of repentance, and they receive the Lord Jesus with a sincere heart. But they do not know the meaning of forgiveness because they are heathens. At such times, it is good for a representative of the church to stand up and say to them, “God has forgiven you of your sins!” This will save them much suffering and anxious searching. If a person has truly believed, you may say to him, “You have accepted the Lord today. You can thank Him because He has forgiven you of your sins!” If the church cannot forgive or retain men’s sins, it has no way to decide who may be baptized. Why do you accept one candidate for baptism while refusing another? Why do you receive some for the bread-breaking meeting while refusing others? This is an exercise of the authority that the church has received from the Lord. It proclaims who is saved and who is not, and whose sins are forgiven and whose are retained. Such declarations must not be made in a light way. Those whose sins are forgiven are forgiven, while those whose sins are retained have their sins retained. Such a statement must be made under the authority of the Holy Spirit. John 20:22 says, “Receive ye the Holy Ghost.” Verse 23 continues, “Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.” Only when the church has received the Holy Spirit and is under the authority of the Holy Spirit can it act as an instrument to God. Only after the Lord has made a man an instrument can he proclaim to a sinner, “You are forgiven of your sins!” or to another sinner, “Your sins are not forgiven!” This is the second kind of forgiveness described in the Bible. In this forgiveness, God does not forgive directly; He does it through the church. Eternal forgiveness is God’s direct forgiveness of men. Instrumental forgiveness is God’s proclamation of forgiveness through man.

III. FORGIVENESS IN FELLOWSHIP

There is a third kind of forgiveness in the Bible. We call this forgiveness in fellowship. First John 1:7-9 says, “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” First John 2:1-2 continues, “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” The forgiveness spoken of in this portion of the Word is neither the forgiveness at the time of our salvation nor the forgiveness pronounced by the church. This forgiveness is different from the above two kinds of forgiveness. After one believes in the Lord and has become a child of God, often he still needs God’s forgiveness. This is the forgiveness spoken of in another chapter, in which the ashes of the red heifer are applied. After we believe in the Lord, confess our Christian faith, and receive eternal forgiveness, we may still sin at times. We may become weak and encounter setbacks before the Lord. This kind of sin produces a barrier in our fellowship with God.

A. The Characteristic of Life—Delighting in Fellowship

All biologists know that life has two basic characteristics: First, it strives to live, to preserve itself, to continue its existence. Life abhors death. Second, it does not want to be cut off from fellowship. Life abhors isolation. If a chicken is left by itself, it will be sullen. If you put it with many other chickens, it will become lively. If you keep a prisoner in isolation, he will suffer because he cannot have fellowship with other men. Man is a living creature. Like other living creatures, he strives to preserve his own life, and he also delights in fellowship.

B. Frustrations to the Fellowship of Life

We believe that the blood of the Lord Jesus has saved us. There is absolutely no question as far as our life is concerned; we are saved and are eternally forgiven. This part does not pose any problem to us.

But another matter may pose a problem. After we have believed in the Lord and are saved, our fellowship with God and with other children of God can be interrupted if we offend Him. What does it mean for our fellowship to be interrupted? Suppose a little girl goes to the kitchen secretly and steals the food her mother has prepared, or some fruit from the cabinet, or other things. Suppose she eats all the food while her mother is away. She may close the door of the kitchen properly, clean her face, and wipe the table, but a transgression has been committed! Before this she was very intimate with her mother every night. But on this night, she may not be as intimate as before because she has stolen something. When her mother calls her from upstairs, her heart may start bounding downstairs. She may think that her mother is going to spank her. Her mother may even offer her some food, but she will not have any taste for it. She will be in constant fear that her mother knows what she has done. She may try to hide herself from her mother. In this we see that the child’s fellowship with her mother has been interrupted. After she steals the food, she does not cease to be her mother’s daughter; she is still a daughter, but her fellowship with her mother has been interrupted. After you have sinned, you do not cease to be a child of God. You are still God’s child, but your fellowship with Him has been interrupted. Sin cuts off fellow- ship immediately. You no longer have a conscience that is void of offense. You must have a pure conscience before you can enjoy a continuous fellowship with God. If your conscience is offended, you have no way to fellowship with God.

C. How to Restore Our Fellowship with God

A child of God does not lose his status as a child after he has sinned. However, he may lose his fellowship with God through his sin. There is a forgiveness, however, which we call forgiveness in fellowship. We call it forgiveness in fellow- ship because only when one turns back to God and confesses his sins can his fellowship with God be restored. Otherwise, he has no way to fellowship with God. He may not even be able to pray to God or say amen when others pray. He will suffer very much within himself.

What should one do? Take the earlier example of the little girl who stole from her mother. She must go to her mother and say, “I have stolen the biscuits you have prepared. I have eaten the fruit you placed on the table. I should not have done this.” She has to stand on the ground of her mother and acknowledge her sin as sin. She must give sin the proper name. She must say, “Please forgive my sins!” In the same way, we must come to God and say, “I have sinned. I have sinned against You in this matter. Please forgive me!” If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Such a forgiveness has nothing to do with eternal forgiveness. It has to do with our fellowship with God. This is why we call it forgiveness in fellowship.

IV. GOVERNMENTAL FORGIVENESS

There is another kind of forgiveness in the Bible which we call governmental forgiveness. We can understand this kind of forgiveness from the following verses: Matthew 6:14-15; 9:2, 5-6; 18:21-35; James 5:15. We call the forgiveness that is spoken of in all these verses governmental forgiveness.

A. What God’s Governmental Forgiveness Is

Some may ask, “What is God’s governmental forgiveness?” I have often thought that if a person were made aware of God’s government immediately upon becoming a Christian, he would spare himself many troubles and problems.

Let me once again use the illustration of the little girl. Before such an incident as described above occurred, her mother would have left the doors of the rooms in the house open whenever she left the house. She would have left the door to the kitchen open and the kitchen cabinet doors unlocked. Even though there may have been considerable food in the cabinets, she would have left the door open. On that particular day, when she comes back to the house, she may discover that her daughter has stolen food from the cabinets. Since the mother has found out, the daughter has no choice but to confess her sins and ask for forgiveness. The mother forgives her and kisses her. She says, “I forgive you,” and the matter is over with and the fellowship restored. But from that time on, she begins to lock the doors whenever she leaves the house. She has changed her way! Fellowship is one thing, while government is another thing.

What is government? Government is the way of doing things. In our words, God’s government is His way of doing things; it is His administration. The mother forgives her child’s sin. She says, “Since you have eaten the food already, I will not pursue the matter any further.” She forgives her daughter, and the fellowship is restored. When the daughter sees her mother, she can be as happy and intimate as before. But the next time the mother leaves the house, the cabinets and the door to the kitchen will be locked. In other words, the way of handling things will be different. Fellowship can be restored, but the way of doing things cannot be easily restored. The mother is afraid that her child will do the same thing again. She will no longer grant her daughter the kind of freedom she had before. She will put on some kind of restrictions. The way is changed. Please bear in mind that God treats us according to the same principle. Forgiveness in fellowship is easy. Fellowship is easily restored for those who confess with a true heart. Once they confess that they have sinned against God, God will recover the fellowship between Him and them. But God’s way of dealing with these ones may immediately become different. God’s discipline may be exercised upon them. He may no longer allow them to be as free or loose.

One day the disciplining hand of God may be lifted. At that time we will have governmental forgiveness. After a period of time, the mother may feel that her child can once again be trusted. She then leaves the kitchen door open once more. This is called governmental forgiveness.

Forgiveness of fellowship is one thing, while governmental forgiveness is another. A father may tell his sons to go outside to play at four o’clock and to come back for dinner at six o’clock. Suppose one day the children go out and fight with other children. When they come home, they confess their sin to their father. The father forgives them and lets them out again the next day, but they get into a fight with other children again. What should the father do? They may confess their sins day after day and the father may forgive them day after day, but the father will wonder whether his way of government is wrong. He may wonder if it is wrong to let them out every day. He may say, “Starting from tomorrow, you will stay at home and not go out because you have been fighting outside.” The father’s hand has come in. When we sin against God, God will forgive us when we confess our sins to Him. However, we cannot stop Him from using other methods to discipline us. God will forgive us, and our fellowship with Him can be restored, but He may change His way with us. A man must realize that God’s governmental hand is not easily removed. It is not easy for God to take away His governmental hand. God will remove His governmental hand only when He has full assurance that His children are doing the right things. When the father sees his children continuing to make trouble, he will tell them to stay at home and withhold their freedom. He will shut them up for days, weeks, or even months, until he is satisfied that they will no longer cause trouble, quarreling or fighting with people. At that time the father may say to his children, “You have behaved well during the past two months. You may go out for ten minutes tomorrow.” The governmental hand is lifted. Have you seen this? We call these ten minutes a governmental forgiveness. The governmental way has changed. The father still has to observe how the children behave among others during those ten minutes. If the children do not engage in a fight, the father may allow them to go out again for half an hour the next day. After some time, he may extend the time to an hour. Perhaps after one or two months, they may play from four o’clock to six o’clock again. When that day comes, we can say that governmental forgiveness has been fully exercised in the children! Brothers, what does governmental forgiveness mean? Governmental forgiveness is absolutely different from eternal forgiveness, instrumental forgiveness, and forgiveness in fellowship. Governmental forgiveness is related to the way God manages, rules over, and deals with us.

B. What a Man Sows, That He Reaps

Many portions in the Bible point out similar things. For example, Galatians 6:7 says, “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” This speaks of God’s governmental hand. If a father spoils his children, his children will not grow up in a proper way. A father who does not care for his own family will end up with a tragedy. This is the only possible result. A person who always argues and fights with others and who holds different opinions will have no friends. What a man sows, that he reaps. This is God’s government, God’s ordained law. No one can change such a law. God’s children must be careful not to provoke His governmental hand. It is not easy for God to remove His hand once it is provoked.

C. The Lord’s Healing of a Paralytic Being a Governmental Forgiveness

A certain paralytic was carried to the Lord in the presence of the scribes. The Lord Jesus said to the paralytic, “Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee.” (Matt. 9:2). If we do not understand governmental forgiveness, it will be hard to understand what the Lord Jesus was saying. The paralytic did not express his belief; it was others who bore him on a bed to the Lord. Yet the Lord said to him, “Take courage, child; your sins are forgiven.” Does this mean that the paralytic was saved when he was carried to the Lord? If he were, salvation would have been too easy. One would only have to be carried to the Lord, and his sins would be forgiven. No, this certainly does not refer to eternal forgiveness. It has nothing to do with instrumental forgiveness or even forgiveness in fellowship. This is another kind of forgiveness. The Lord shows us two things here. On the one hand, the paralytic’s sins were forgiven. On the other hand, he had to rise and pick up his mat and walk. Please bear in mind that many sicknesses are the result of God’s governmental hand. In order for the paralytic to be healed and to rise again, he first needed to receive governmental forgiveness. Such forgiveness is related to God’s government. It is related to sicknesses, not to eternal life. When others carried the paralytic to the Lord Jesus, His forgiveness clearly related to the sickness of paralysis. This man came to the Lord to be healed, and the Lord Jesus said that his sins were forgiven. In other words, his sickness would be healed once his sins were forgiven. His sickness was related to his sins. The Lord Jesus said such a word because the sickness was the result of the man’s sins before God. He was sick because he had not settled the issue of his sins yet. When this issue was settled, his sickness was gone. This is governmental forgiveness. Sickness goes away when governmental forgiveness comes. Such a sin clearly involved a governmental offense. The man was sick because he had done something which had offended God’s government. Once the Lord forgave him of his sins, he could rise, pick up his mat, and go home. This forgiveness is different from the other kinds of forgiveness. It is the forgiveness which enables one to pick up his mat and go home. This is governmental forgiveness.

D. The Elders of the Church Anointing the Sick and Praying for Them to Receive Governmental Forgiveness

James 5:14-15 says, “Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.” This seems to be a very special kind of forgiveness. Here was a brother who was sick. The elders of the church were invited to anoint him with oil and pray for him, and the prayer of faith would cause the sick to rise up. If he had committed any sin, it would be forgiven him. We have seen that sickness may be caused by many factors. Some sicknesses may not be the result of sin, but some are. The sin here is not forgiven through the confession of the sick one; it is forgiven through the prayer of the elders of the church. Why are his sins forgiven after the elders of the church pray for him and apply the anointing to him? What sins are spoken of in this verse? One cannot apply such a method to eternal forgiveness, instrumental forgiveness, or forgiveness in fellowship. I believe that this is related to God’s government. Suppose a brother is sick because of God’s governmental hand. He has sinned and has fallen, and God is disciplining him. Although he has confessed his sins and has been forgiven and restored to fellowship, God’s disciplining hand has not been lifted. He has to wait for the elders of the church to come to him and make petition on his behalf, saying, “The brothers have forgiven his sins. We expect to see him rise up again. The church would like to see such a brother being recovered to the flow of life. Therefore, we anoint his body with oil that the ointment of the Head may flow to him once more.” When the church does this to the sick one, he will be restored. In many cases, a person may have sinned and offended God’s government. As soon as God removes His governmental hand from such a person, his sickness will be healed. When God removes His governmental hand, we have the fulfillment of the word, ” if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.” This sin is different from other ordinary sins. In our reading of the Bible, we must realize that James 5 is a chapter on governmental forgiveness. If we fall under God’s governmental hand, He will not let us go until we are fully forgiven.

E. David under God’s Governmental Hand

To understand the significance of governmental forgiveness, we must consider the example of David in the Old Testament. No portion of the Bible speaks of God’s governmental forgiveness as clearly as the story of David with Uriah’s wife. David committed two sins: adultery and murder. His adultery was a sin against Uriah’s wife, and his murder was a sin against Uriah himself. If you read Psalm 51 and a few other psalms, you will see how David confessed his sins after his mistakes. He felt the shame, the defilement, and the offense that he had committed against God. He was sincere in his confession to God. This shows us clearly that his fellowship with God was restored after his confession in Psalm 51. This restoration of fellowship is analogous to that which is spoken of in 1 John 1.

What did God say to David? He sent Nathan to speak to David. I want you to pay special attention to what Nathan said in 2 Samuel 12:13 after David said, “I have sinned against the LORD.” Nathan said to David, “The LORD also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die.” David said, ” I have sinned against the LORD.” He confessed his sins and admitted his guilt. He confessed that he was defiled and had sinned against Jehovah. In return God said through Nathan, “The LORD also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die.” Clearly David’s sins were forgiven; God had put away his sins. What did God say to David after that? He said, “Howbeit, because by this deed thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme, the child also that is born unto thee shall surely die. ” (v. 14). He also said, “Now therefore the sword shall never depart from thine house; because thou hast despised me, and hast taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be thy wife.” (v. 10). Finally, He said, “Thus saith the LORD, Behold, I will raise up evil against thee out of thine own house, and I will take thy wives before thine eyes, and give them unto thy neighbour, and he shall lie with thy wives in the sight of this sun. For thou didst it secretly: but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun.” (vv. 11-12). God had already put away David’s sins, but He would cause the son born to Uriah’s wife to die and the sword not to depart from his house. God had already put away David’s sins, but He would allow Absalom to rebel and defile David’s wives. In other words, sins may be forgiven but the discipline does not go away immediately.

Let me say a frank word to you. You may go to God and ask for forgiveness for any sin, and God will forgive you. The restoring of fellowship can be quick. David restored his fellowship with God very quickly, but God’s discipline continued even after his death. God’s government would not depart from him as long as His discipline was upon him. Not long after this episode, his son became sick. Even though David fasted and laid on the floor the whole night, it was useless. God’s disciplinary hand fell upon David and his son died. Following this, his eldest son Amnon was murdered, and then Absalom rebelled. The sword never departed from David’s house! Yet God said to David, “I have forgiven your sins!” Brothers, God may have forgiven your sins, but even though He has forgiven you, you cannot stop His chastisement on you and His governmental hand upon you.

F. Learning to Humble Oneself under God’s Mighty Hand

Our God is a God of government. He will not move His governmental hand immediately away from those who have sinned against Him. Often, God does not do anything; He lets you go. But as soon as He stretches forth His governmental hand, you can do nothing except humble yourself under His mighty hand. You have no escape! God is not like man; He is not sloppy and will not let you go! A sin which damages one’s fellowship with God can easily be forgiven, and a person can easily be recovered. But no one can run away from God’s discipline in the environment, the home, one’s career, and his physical body. The only thing we can do is to learn to humble ourselves under His mighty hand. The more we humble ourselves under His mighty hand and give up all resistance, the easier it is for God to lift His governmental hand. The more we refuse to humble ourselves, and the more angry, vocal, or indignant we become, the more difficult it is for God to lift His governmental hand. This is a very serious matter! Twenty years ago we might have done something according to our own will. Today we still have to face the same thing. We still have to suffer the consequences. It will come back to haunt us. When such a thing catches up with us, we should bow our head and say, “Lord, it is all my fault!” We must humble ourselves under God’s hand. Do not resist. The more we resist, the heavier God’s hand will become. Let me repeat: Let us humble ourselves under God’s mighty hand. The more we reject God’s governmental hand, the more problems we will encounter. When God’s governmental hand is upon us, we must humble ourselves and say, “Lord, You have done no wrong! I deserve this.” We must humble ourselves. We must not only remove all rebellious thoughts but also take away all reasonings and murmurings.

It is not easy to be rebellious and to try to escape God’s hand. Who can escape His hand? You must realize that you have fallen into your present state through what you did before. Suppose a brother loved sugar too much as a youth, and his teeth have decayed from the overconsumption of sweets. One day he feels that he has eaten too many sweets. These sweets have brought about his toothaches. He asks God to forgive his sin of indulgence in eating. God can easily forgive such a sin. But it does not mean that his teeth will recover from their decay. His teeth will still be bad; that is God’s government. If you eat sweets, your teeth will decay. If you confess your weakness, the fellowship will be restored, but it does not mean that good teeth will grow back after your confession. Once you recognize God’s government, you have to learn to humble yourself under it. One can never recover a tooth from decay, but there are matters concerning God’s governmental hand which can be removed, and the person involved can be recovered.

G. Falling under God’s Governmental Hand Being a Serious Matter

Let us consider one portion of the Word. After Moses smote the rock in Meribah (Num. 20:10-12), both he and Aaron fell under God’s governmental hand. After Aaron failed, God still allowed him to remain a priest and restored his fellowship with God. Even though he wore the priestly robe, God nevertheless told him that he would not be able to live. Moses also did not honor Jehovah as the Holy One when he was by the rock. God wanted him to command water to flow out from the rock, but he smote the rock with his rod and lost his composure. He did not honor Jehovah as the Holy One. God’s hand was upon his servants, and Aaron and Moses could not enter Canaan. Do you see the basic principle here? This is God’s government! We cannot pin down our God. We cannot guarantee that God will always treat us the same way as before. At a certain point, God may change His way with us. He may change even what we consider to be the best way.

The Bible is full of such stories. For example, when the Israelites reached Kadesh in the wilderness of Paran, spies went up to spy out the land (Num. 13—14). When they saw that it would take two people to carry a cluster of grapes, they realized that the land was a land flowing with milk and honey. But they became afraid and refused to enter into that land, because they saw that the people who dwelt in that land were of great stature. In their own sight the Israelites were as grasshoppers. As a result, all but two of them died in the wilderness. Joshua and Caleb were the only two persons who would go into the good land. Later, the people confessed their sins and wanted to go in. God still treated them as His people and was gracious to them. However, they could no longer have a part in the land of Canaan. God’s government had changed! Brothers, the very day that you begin your Christian life, you should set a hope before you that you will stay on the course that God has measured to you, all the way to the end. Do not live loosely. Do not sin. Please bear in mind that even though God may be merciful, He can change His way! God’s governmental hand will never let you go.

God’s governmental hand is indeed a serious matter! I know of a brother who was clearly called by the Lord to set aside his career to serve the Lord. He went home for a visit but could not bring himself to quit his occupation. He wanted to be a good Christian, but he did not want to set aside his career or spend his life for the gospel. Since then he is sometimes weak and sometimes strong. But it is impossible for him to turn back to this way! Please bear in mind that our greatest fear is God’s disciplining hand; we do not know when His hand will come upon us! God may let us go, even if we rebel ten times, but He may not let us go the eleventh time. However, God will not let some people go the first time they rebel. We do not know when God will catch up with us! Brothers, please bear in mind that God’s government is not something under our control! He does things according to His will.

I know of a sister who at one time wanted to consecrate herself to serve the Lord. Later she married, and her marriage was not a very good one. As soon as she made such a move, the light ceased to shine in her. There is no way to ask her to return to this way now. God’s governmental hand is upon her. Today we cannot turn her back no matter how hard we try. Light is shut off from her; it is invisible. It is as if a veil is hanging in front of her. There is no way for her to see the light again.

(Note – This administrator knows of other examples of the governmental hand of the Lord.  A very successful pastor and wife would not keep their son in church during the services because he was a little over-active and they did not want him to become a disturbance.  Their solution was to drop him off at a mall to shop and spend time with his friends.  The result was that he grew away from church and started doing drugs.  To date he is in his forties and is still doing time in prison after having run from a rehab where he only had less than a year to go to finish his sentence.  The result is that he is in for several more years.  Because these parents did not deal with him as a young child, God has dealt with them under his governmental hand and the cost in prison sentences, fines, bail, rehab, stolen property, drug rehab, and many more things just keeps going and the costs keep mounting.  To date this Pastor and wife have still never repented of their sin in raising this child and his problems never end.

Another situation comes to mind.  A very famous pastor of one of the largest churches in the world got into some very serious heretical teaching.  He began to teach that when a person accepted Christ as Savior, it was like the new Christian was the female and God was the male as a sexual relationship.  He also taught the communion service in the same way.  In other teachings he said that the KJV was not inspired nor was it the preserved word of God.  Very recently it was discovered that he had a sexual affair with a troubled girl who was only 16 to 17 years old.  For some reason, his cell phone was left on the pulpit after a service and a deacon saw a picture on the phone of this pastor kissing this teenager.  Result?  He was fired, his ministry was tarnished, his marriage ruined, his testimony destroyed, his chance to be a pastor was cancelled forever, and his staff and church are in shock so bad that he may be years before they recover from this.  Sure, he can go to his wife, his friends, and others, even God to ask for forgiveness, but the governmental judgment of God will be on him for years to come until he can in some way prove that he has repented and changed his teachings and his ways.

Another case comes to mind.  Jack Hyles, a very serious soul-winner had a ministry like no other ministry in the history of the world.  He had four children, two of which, it has become apparent, were worldly and maybe not even saved.  They had gone through the motions for years.  There came a time after they left home that they both decided to go the way of the world, leading immoral lives, getting divorced, and generally causing much harm to the cause of Christ.  One of the worst results of this is that both children have started to lie about their father and make it look like he had committed immorality also.  Their stories are complete lies but the result is that both children are under the governmental judgment of God.  They will never have any ministry and by the looks of them in their public appearances, they don’t even profess to be a Christian.  God’s hand is on these siblings for their sin and it is even tarnishing the image of their father.  Perhaps the father spent so much time trying to save America that he lost his children to the Devil some years back. 

There are other cases of people who have been critical of Jack Hyles.  One man was on the staff of the church, his ministry for soul-winning was blooming while he was faithful to the church but he decided to begin to spread lies about Jack Hyles.  To date, he has a problem even getting a place to serve because no other pastor or church can trust a man who was disloyal and told lies about his pastor Jack Hyles. 

A member of First Baptist Church, Nischick by name, started a rumor that his wife and Jack Hyles were romantically involved.  The lies went nationwide and became part of the print of many sleazy writers.  This grew until many good men became enemies and critics of each other who were formerly good friends and fighting together for a common good in reaching America for Christ.  Finally Nischick was questioned under a deposition and admitted under oath that his wife and Dr. Hyles never had the relationship he claimed but that he was only upset that she spent so much time with the church that he claimed it had ruined his family.  Interestingly enough this man was known to be a big flirt with the women even when some came down the aisle for spiritual decisions in the church.  Evidently the Government Judgment of God came on this man so that his actions caused him to be jealous of God’s man for seeing the pastor as having the same mind as he had.  It ruined many people, his marriage broke up, and years later people are still spreading this man’s lies.  There are probably other stories of pastors that became critical as they jumped on the band wagon of criticism.  Some may have lost their church, some may have fallen into immorality, some may have gotten some serious disease, and some may even have died. 

One more example and we will go on with the teaching here. A missionary that was warned that he was too old to go to the mission field pleaded with the mission board to allow him and his wife to go against mission policy and go to the mission field even though they had children in their teens.  Finally the mission gave in but the results were disastrous.  Two of their children have broken marriages and one has left the ranks of Baptists to become a non-denominational missionary that uses the NIV and has dancing in church.  Their tour on the mission field was also filled with turmoil.  The nationals tried to get them involved in a scam.  They blamed it on the veteran missionary and were caught in over three dozen lies when brought before their board.  Later they went back to the mission field but when they retired they wrote a book about their ministry that was less than truthful.  They lied about their children in order to cover their broken marriages and it resulted in the children becoming estranged from them with the wife dying of cancer and neither parents had spoken to one of the children in years.  That child never even heard of the funeral of the mother until it was on the internet.  God’s judging hand has never left that family as grand children are now suffering.  One of the grand children has already had two divorces while his non-denominational parents still think they are doing God a favor preaching from the NIV and dancing in church.) 

H. Trying Our Best to Be Obedient to the Lord and to Ask for His Mercy

Therefore, brothers, the first thing we should do is to try our best to obey the Lord. May the Lord be merciful and gracious to us, and may He keep us from falling into His governmental hand. However, if we should fall into His governmental hand, we should not try to get out hastily. Do not resist and do not flee. Do not give up on one basic principle—to obey God at any cost. I am not asking you to obey by yourself, because you cannot obey by yourself. We must ask the Lord to have mercy on us and to enable us to obey. Only when the Lord has mercy on us will we be able to get through in this matter. “Lord, have mercy on me, or I will not be able to get through in this.” We must always ask the Lord to grant us mercy to get through and to not fall into His governmental hand. If God’s governmental hand is already upon us and we are already sick or in the midst of some dire experiences or difficulties, we must remember to not resist God’s government with our fleshly hand. As soon as His governmental hand is upon us, we should learn to humble ourselves under His mighty hand. We must say, “Lord, this is Your work! This is Your arrangement! I gladly yield myself to it. I am willing, and I accept it!” When God’s governmental hand was upon Job (whom God could easily have spared), the more that Job accepted it, the better it was for him. The more he talked about his own righteousness, the worse his condition became.

Thank God! God’s governmental hand often does not remain upon a person all the time. Personally, I believe that when God’s governmental hand is upon a person, it can easily be removed by the prayer of the church. This is the precious lesson we find in James 5, which tells us that the elders of the church can lift God’s governmental hand. James said that the prayer of faith can cause a person to rise up. If he has committed any sin, his sin can be forgiven. If a brother is enlightened concerning this matter, and the church prays for him, very often God will lift His governmental and disciplining hand.

Once when I was talking to Miss M. E. Barber, she related an interesting story to me. A brother had done something terrible. Later, he repented and came to Miss Barber. She said to the man, “You have repented and have turned back, have you not? Now you must go to the Lord and tell Him, `I was once a vessel in the hand of the potter. Now the vessel is broken.’ Do not force the Lord to do anything by saying, `Lord, You must make me another kind of vessel.’ You must humble yourself and pray, `Lord, be merciful to me. Let me be a vessel again! I can no longer insist on being a vessel by myself.’ The Lord can make you a vessel unto honor, or He can make you a vessel unto dishonor.” Many people still want to be the same kind of vessel. They insist that the Lord make them glorious all the time, but sometimes blessing can come out of a curse. However, I can tell you this: We have all passed through many dealings. I have fallen into God’s hand many times; God’s governmental hand has been upon me. We must admit that we often get to know God’s will even more through His governmental hand. There is no way to dodge it; we can only humble ourselves. We can do nothing except humble ourselves. As time goes by, we will see that it is impossible to avoid or dodge any issue. We have to humble ourselves under God’s will. We can only say, “Lord! What You have arranged for me is always the best. I can only humble my heart before You!”

We must not be careless or loose about these matters. I know of a sister who came to see me about marrying a certain man. I told her that as far as I knew, she should not marry him because he did not seem to be a trustworthy Christian. She said that she was confident that the marriage would work. Seven or eight months after her marriage, she wrote a very long letter to me and said, “I know now I was wrong. I did not listen to your word. I know now that it was a great mistake! What should I do?” I replied, “From now on, you have only one way—humble yourself under God’s mighty hand. Even though you tell me about your problem, I cannot help you. No one can help you. You have already fallen into God’s governmental hand. If you struggle and rebel, your vessel will only break, and you will only sacrifice your own future.” I warned her in a strong way in the letter that she should not even try to write another letter to me. We must remember that God’s government is most serious!

A thought often comes to me: What can I compare the present condition of the church to? The church is like a potter’s house with many broken vessels, broken tubs, and broken vases strewn everywhere. One finds broken vessels everywhere. This is the situation among Christians today. This is a very serious matter. I say again, we must learn to humble ourselves under God’s mighty hand.

V. FEARING GOD AND BEING GENEROUS TO OTHERS

Two other portions of the Word speak about God’s governmental hand: Matthew 6:15 and 18:23-35. One very important thing can be found in these verses—do not condemn others easily. This is a very serious matter! If you criticize others lightly, the same criticism will fall back upon you. In whatever matter you do not forgive or excuse others, the same matter will come back to haunt you! This surely has to do with God’s governmental hand. The Lord said that if you do not forgive others of their sins, God will also not forgive you of your sins. This refers to governmental forgiveness. This forgiveness is different from other kinds of forgiveness. Matthew 18:35 uses the phrase My heavenly Father. The fact that a person can call God Father proves that the matter of eternal forgiveness with him has long been settled. If a brother offends such a one, and that one does not forgive his brother, God will not forgive him either. His governmental hand will come. Learn to be a generous and forgiving person! Learn to be generous to others and learn always to forgive. If you keep complaining about the conduct of others and continue to count the ill treatment you receive from them, please bear in mind that this will bring you into God’s governmental hand and it will not be easy to come out! God will put you deeper into the hole. If you are severe toward others, God will also be severe toward you. When the slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred pennies, he seized him and took him by the throat. When his lord found out about this, he was unhappy with the slave. He delivered the slave to the torturers until the slave paid all that he owed (18:23-35). He would not be released until he paid all that he owed. God disciplined the unforgiving slave. God’s governmental hand was upon him, and he could not easily get away.

We should not only be generous in forgiving others but also avoid criticizing or speaking about others in a light way. Please bear in mind that our criticism and careless comments about others often becomes a judgment upon ourselves. Then what will we do? When a brother deals harshly with others, we often find the Lord’s discipline swiftly catching up with him. Perhaps he easily becomes sick. Sometimes a person may make a remark about someone’s troublesome children, saying, “See how God’s hand is always on this person.” But after some time, the same thing happens to the one who criticized. What do we do when this happens? Brothers, I hope that we will learn to fear God’s governmental hand. We have to learn to fear God. We have to be careful with our words, for many things can happen to us as a result of our careless words.

I can tell you today that the Christian life is a life of learning God’s government. As Christians, we may live many years on earth. During these years God puts us under His training and teaches us the lesson of His discipline. We must not call ourselves children of God yet refuse to yield ourselves to His discipline. Please bear in mind that no one should criticize or speak about anything in a light way. I hope we will pick up the habit of shunning idle things and idle talk. Learn to be godly persons. It is not wise to incur God’s governmental judgment. It is very serious and sobering. We should be careful not to take other people’s affairs upon ourselves. Whatever we lightly condemn about others will soon become a condemnation upon us. We reap what we sow. This is something very real among God’s children. I hope that we will learn to be generous persons in the eyes of God. The wise ones are the generous ones. The more generous we are to others, the more generous God will be to us. I know what I am talking about. If we are mean and severe to our brothers, God will also be mean and severe to us. You must learn to be kind, loving, and generous to your brothers. Give others liberty in many things. Stop all idle talk and criticism. When others are in trouble, it is the time for us to help them, not the time for us to criticize them.

Please bear in mind that the Jews will be tormented and imprisoned during the end time. They will have no clothes and nothing to eat. The sheep will be the ones who will visit them in prison, who will give them clothes when they are naked, and who will give them food when they hunger. These charitable acts will give them the ground to receive grace. We must not say that since God has ordained that they go through persecution and suffering, we will do our part by adding suffering to them. God indeed has ordained the suffering, but we must be generous to them. We cannot say that we will add more sufferings to them because God has ordained their persecution and affliction. Governmental discipline is God’s concern. God’s children in this age must learn to always treat people generously and compassionately. If we do this, the Lord will forgive us in many things.

There are many brothers who have fallen miserably today for one reason only—they have criticized others too severely in the past. Many of their weaknesses today are the very weaknesses they criticized in the past. God will not let such matters go easily! We must be generous toward others if we want to avoid God’s governmental hand! May we learn to love and forbear one another. We must always ask God for mercy in dealing with our foolishness and weakness, both in our walk and in everything we do. We do not want to fall into His governmental hand! We must look to God’s mercy again and again. We must learn to realize that we live by God’s wisdom! We must say to God, “I am a foolish man. Everything I do results in nothing but foolishness. I can do nothing. If I fall into Your governmental hand, I will not be able to bear it. Be merciful to me!” The more pliable and humble we are, the easier it will be for us to be delivered from our afflictions. The more arrogant, stubborn, and self-assured we are, the harder it will be for us to come out of them. Therefore, we must learn to humble ourselves.

(Note – there are many preachers who have taken the attitude that God has called them to criticize Jack Hyles.  One man, a lawyer, works for a ministry that desires to help churches.  His criticism of Jack Hyles has made it almost impossible to get the trust of pastors who need his help with legal matters.  When other preachers, even non-Baptists, have tried to warn him about this, he has objected by saying that God has called him to be a critic.  There are other preachers across America that used to have thriving ministries but due to their criticism of Jack Hyles, some are out of the ministry and others have ministries that are barely moving as they struggle to have any kind of ministry at all.  Their problem, they wanted to hear the gossip and spread it to anyone that would hear.  These preachers and lawyer will find that their ministries will be only a dwarf of what it could have been had they not decided that they were called to join Satan as the accuser of the brethren.  God’s Governmental judgment may be on them until the rapture or until they die and go to heaven.)

VI. BEING HUMBLE AND OBEDIENT, AND “IN DUE TIME,”
GOD’S GOVERNMENTAL HAND BEING WITHDRAWN

Should we fall into God’s governmental hand, for any reason great or small, the last thing we should do is rebel. Rebellion is foolishness! There is only one principle we can act upon when we fall into God’s hand; that is, to humble ourselves under God’s mighty hand. If we truly humble ourselves under God’s mighty hand, He will relieve and release us “in due time.” When God feels that events have run their course, He will let us go. I would like to draw attention to the words in due time. First Peter 5:6 says, “Therefore be humbled under the mighty hand of God that He may exalt you in due time.” The emphasis here is in due time. God will open a way for us in due time. He will direct us to a straight path in due time. He will release us in due time, and He will exalt us in due time.

The mighty hand of God in this verse specifically refers to the matter of discipline. His hand here is not for protection. If it were for protection, the verse would say, “The eternal arm of God.” Here we are the ones who humble ourselves under God’s mighty hand. This implies obedience. Here is God’s mighty hand. We cannot shake off such a hand! We cannot resist it. Instead, we must learn to humble ourselves under it by saying, “Lord! I am willing to obey. I will not resist You no matter where You put me. I accept everything, and I accept it willingly! I have nothing to say about the way You are treating me. I am willing to obey Your word! No matter how long You keep me in this condition, I am willing to obey!” Then we will see that there is a “due time.” We do not know how long it will be. But at a certain time, the Lord will let us go, and He will move the church to pray for us and release us.

May we all know God’s government from the very beginning! Many problems develop because men are ignorant of God’s government. I hope that God’s children will know His government from the first day, the first year, of their Christian life. If they do, they will be able to go on in a very proper way.

(Note – I believe that divorce is also God’s governmental forgiveness.  God never meant for any man and woman to get a divorce but the Bible says that because of the hardness of the heart that God allows the giving of a bill of divorcement.  In the Bible it was a way for a woman who was innocent to be allowed to remarry because women had no means of support without a husband.  It usually meant that the man was no longer interested in his wife but wanted some other wife and thus the offended woman was allowed to remarry.  In our day and time divorces happen far too frequently and yet God’s governmental justice applies in these cases also.  Most of the time neither party will ever have the life of service for God that they could have had if there were not a divorce.  In the case of a pastor, most churches would never hire a divorced pastor because the Bible teaches he should be the husband of one wife.  However, God’s governmental forgiveness would allow even a pastor to remarry in some cases and also to be a pastor again yet it could be many years before he is a pastor if at all.

There are several cases that I can cite that show God’s governmental forgiveness in the case of divorce and a preacher being forgiven by God.  The first case is a man who was in Bible school and during the time of his young marriage his wife played the harlot, having sexual relations with several men and eventually having a child by one of them.  This man did not believe in divorce so he tried his best to forgive her and keep living and serving the Lord but it did not work.  She eventually left, got married several more times and had other illegitimate children.  This pastor finished college got remarried and has a wonderful wife that loves him faithfully.  Even though he was in the right, it took years for him to get back into the ministry because most churches won’t have a divorced pastor.  Yet God’s governmental forgiveness has allowed him to win many souls and preach to hundreds if not thousands of people

Another case of governmental forgiveness is a pastor with a similar situation where his wife was unfaithful.  He divorced her and after a few years was remarried.  He stayed in the same town where he had pastured previously and some of his people even helped him start a new church that has been very successful even sending missionaries around the world in almost 100 different mission fields.  God’s governmental forgiveness has allowed him to have a successful ministry even though he is divorced.  He has had some problems with children, however.  His children from the first marriage were raised by the first wife and turned out fairly good because she was a good disciplinarian.  His children from the second marriage are fraught with issues.  One son has been on drugs and in and out of prison for years.  The second son does not attend church and is married to a Catholic.  God has given governmental forgiveness like he did to David in the Bible but the problems have not left and yet God has forgiven.

A third situation is a little less easy to comprehend.  A very well known minister had an affair and his wife left him and divorced him.  He was lonely and depressed and making a living by being an ostrich farmer.  The pastor in the above illustration took this pastor in as a member and helped him out in his life to get back into the ministry.  He met a widow and began to fall in love.  He really did not want to remarry unless his first wife absolutely refused to forgive him because he did not believe in divorce.  However, a week before the wedding, his first wife still refused to forgive.  As a result, he remarried even though he was in the wrong (not like the other two pastors above who were the offended party) and he is now successfully serving God as a missionary on a foreign field.  It took many years but God’s governmental forgiveness has allowed this man to serve God and see many come to the Lord as a result of Governmental forgiveness.

FINAL NOTE – Due to the problems listed above, it is very rare that a person who is divorced will ever be able to pastor.  Most churches don’t believe it is scriptural and I have put these examples here to show one reason that God wants pastors who don’t have these issues leading the flock.  Governmental Forgiveness is something that comes from God.  The cases where God allows a divorced man to pastor are very few and I have only mentioned these since I know the situation and as can be seen, there are severe problems associated with divorce.  Jesus taught that from the beginning it was not in the plan of God and Moses granted divorce because of the hardness of the heart.  If God chooses to give Governmental Forgiveness to a divorced man, I think it best that it be kept private and never discussed in public.

I would like to advise anyone who is reading this that they make a covenant with God and determine that no matter how difficult the marriage may be that the blessing of God will be much different and your own spiritual growth will be far stronger if you decide that you will never allow even one thought to enter your mind about ever being separated or divorced from your spouse.  The grass is not greener on the other side of the fence and you may find that even though you think you became free of a problem on one hand, you may never have another chance to serve God in the way you do now.  The next few lessons are about the discipline of God and of the Holy Spirit.  Getting a divorce may completely cancel a work that God is doing to make you more holy in the midst of tribulation.  Removing the tribulation could also remove the blessing and the Anointing of the Holy Spirit.  You could find yourself like Cain who found no place to repent though he sought it carefully with tears or like King Saul who lost his anointing of the Holy Spirit and even tried to Kill God’s replacement.  God may give Governmental Forgiveness, but your position in the Kingdom of God could mean you will never again be in a leadership role again to the day you die.  That is not to say that God can’t use you, it is saying that you won’t ever be the same.  Have the spirit of Christ who gave himself for you and sacrifice your life and future for your spouse.  When that spouse sees that you are willing to sacrifice all for them, God can then begin to work to make the changes that seemed impossible before.)

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(Written originally by Watchman Nee in China during the Chinese revolution and died in a prison camp but these lessons have been the foundation of my life for 38 years.  David Williams – site Admin.  Illustrations in italics added by the administrator.)

SEEKING GOD’S WILL

Scripture Reading: John 7:17; Matt. 10:29-31; 18:15-20; Rom. 8:14; Psa. 119:105; 1 John 2:27

If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself. (John 7:17)

Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows. (Matthew 10:29-31)

Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican. Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. (Matthew 18:15-20)

For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.  (Romans 8:14)

NUN. Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.  (Psalms 119:105)

But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him.  (1 John 2:27)

 

I. THE NEED TO OBEY GOD’S WILL

Before we were saved, we did everything according to our own will. At that time we served ourselves and did everything to please ourselves. We would do anything as long as it pleased us or made us happy. However, now we have believed in the Lord and have accepted Christ Jesus as our Savior. We have acknowledged Him as our Master, the One whom we serve. We have acknowledged that He has redeemed us. We belong to Him and are of Him, and we are here to serve Him. For this reason, we need a fundamental change. We no longer should walk according to our preference; we must walk according to God’s will. After we believe in the Lord, the focus of our living changes. The focus is no longer ourselves, but the Lord. The first thing we should do after we are saved is ask, “What shall I do, Lord?” Paul asked this question in Acts 22:10, and we should ask the same question. Whenever we come across a situation, we should say, “Lord, not as I will, but as You will.” In making decisions or in choosing our paths, we should always say to the Lord, “Not as I will, but as You will.”

The life we possess has one basic demand—to walk according to God’s will. The more we obey God’s will, the happier we become within. The more we deny our own will, the straighter our pathway will be before God. If we walk according to our own will as we once did, we will not feel happy. Instead, we will suffer. After we are saved, the more we walk according to our own will, the more suffering and the less joy we will have. But the more we walk according to the new life and the more we obey God’s will, the more peace and joy we will have. This is a wonderful change. We should not think that we will be happy if we walk according to our own will. After becoming Christians, we will find our path filled with peace and joy if we do not walk according to our own will but learn to submit to and obey God’s will. Christian joy has to do with obeying God’s will, not with walking according to our own will.

Once we become Christians, we have to learn to accept God’s will and be governed by it. If a person can submit humbly to God’s will, he will spare himself many needless detours. Many fail and stop growing in life because they walk according to their own will. The result of walking according to our own will is nothing but sorrow and poverty. In the end we still have to walk according to God’s will. God always subdues us through things, circumstances, and the environment. If we have not been chosen by God, He will let us walk as we wish. But since we have been chosen by God, He will lead us to the way of obedience according to His way. Disobedience will only cost us unnecessary detours. In the end we will still have to obey.  (The desire to do the will of God is linked to the intrinsic value of who God is and the love that He has for us as He wants the very best for our lives.  God always has the good of being or the very best end for all his family which we have become a part of the day we were saved.  He has what is called disinterested benevolence which is love that wants nothing in return as a payback but his love has only one ending goal, the best possible life that we can ever have.  In short, God loves you and me with an everlasting love and even when we don’t respond to that love, he will always try to work things out in our life to give us an expected happy ending.  That happy ending is the will of God that we are speaking about.  It is not the will of a tyrant like some false religions such as Islam where Allah demands that his subjects sacrifice their lives in some kind of suicide bombing or fighting Jihad.  With Christians, the Will of God is never the foundation of our obedience to Him.  Instead, it is the Love of God that is the foundation.  So as you read this lesson about the will of God, don’t think of it as the same as the will of Allah, but like a loving father that is gently leading you into a life that will have the best possible results at the end.)

II. HOW TO KNOW GOD’S WILL

Our question now is how do we know God’s will. We often think that mortals like us could never understand God’s will. However, we should have the assurance that not only do we want to obey God’s will, but God Himself also wants us to obey His will. Not only do we seek to know His will, but God Himself also wants us to know His will. If God wants us to obey His will, He must first enable us to know His will. Therefore, it is God’s business to reveal His will to us. None of God’s children need to worry and say, “Since I cannot know God’s will, how can I obey it?” This concern is unnecessary because God always has a way to show us His will (Make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is wellpleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.  Hebrews 13:21). We have to believe that God will always show us His will through the proper means. It is God’s responsibility to tell us His will. If we are submissive in our attitude and intention, we will surely know His will. All of us must learn to believe that God is eager to reveal His will to man.

What are the ways to know God’s will? A Christian must pay attention to three things in order to know God’s will. If these three things are in agreement with one another, we can be quite sure that it is God’s will. These three things are: (1) arrangements in the environment, (2) the leading of the Holy Spirit, and (3) the teachings of the Scripture. These three things are not mentioned according to the order of their importance. They do not necessarily have to be in sequential order. We are simply stating that these three things help us know God’s will. When the testimonies of these three things are in agreement with one another, we can be assured that we know God’s will. If one of these three things is not in agreement with the other two, we still need to wait. We must wait until all three agree with one another before we go ahead.

A. Arrangements in the Environment

Luke 12:6 says, “Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God?” Matthew 10:29 says, “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father.” If one farthing could buy two sparrows, then by right two farthings should only buy four sparrows. But the Lord said two farthings could buy five sparrows. One farthing buys two, and two farthings buy four plus an additional one. This shows us the cheapness of a sparrow. However, even a cheap thing such as a sparrow is not allowed to fall to the earth if God forbids it. Although the fifth sparrow is an extra one that is given for free, no sparrow is forgotten by God. If our God does not allow it, no sparrow can fall to the earth. This clearly shows us that everything happens under God’s permission. If our heavenly Father forbids it, even a sparrow will not fall to the earth. (This helps us see the intrinsic value of the love of God.  His benevolence is that even with a sparrow there will be a best end.)

It is difficult to number a person’s hairs. However, the Lord said, “Even the hairs of your head are all numbered” (Matt. 10:30). No one knows how many hairs he has, and no one can count his own hairs, but God has counted and numbered our hairs. Our God is so fine and so exact!  (Can’t you just see the love of a God who even knows the number of your hairs?)

If God takes care of a seemingly worthless creature such as a sparrow, how much more will He take care of His children! If God takes care of something as minute as a hair, how much more will He take care of other things! Once we believe in the Lord, we need to learn to know His will through the environment. Nothing that happens to us is a coincidence. Everything is measured by the Lord. Our career, spouse, parents, children, relatives, friends, and everything have been ordained by God. Behind everything that happens to us each day is God’s sovereign arrangement. Therefore, we have to learn to read God’s will (as created by His love) in the environment. A new believer may not be that experienced in the leading of the Spirit, and he may not know that much of the teaching of the Scripture. But at least he can see God’s hand in the environment. This is a believer’s most basic lesson. (Look around you and when you consider the love of God, you can’t help but see his handiwork in all of creation and in the seemingly natural events of life, even in the environment around you.)

Psalm 32:9 says, “Be ye not as the horse, or as the mule, which have no understanding: whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle, lest they come near unto thee.” Many times we are just like a horse or a mule, without understanding, and must be harnessed with outward bit and bridle by God before we can avoid mistakes. Have you ever seen a duck farmer? He has a long stick in his hand. When the ducks wander to the left or to the right, he herds them back with his stick. The ducks have no choice but to take the right path. In the same way, we can commit ourselves to the Lord and tell Him, “Lord, I am truly like a horse or a mule that has no understanding. But I do not want to make mistakes. I want to know Your will. Please harness me with Your bit and pull me with Your bridle. Once You let go of me, I will take the wrong way. Please guard me with Your will and direct me into Your will. If I wander away, I want You to stop me. I do not know many things, but I know what pain feels like. When I reject Your will, please come in and stop me!” Brothers and sisters, we must never belittle God’s arrangement in the environment. Even though we may have fallen into shame and may have become like a horse or a mule, we often can still count on God’s mercy to bridle us in time. God uses the environment to stop us from making mistakes. He forces us to have no alternative but to follow Him.

B. The Leading of the Holy Spirit

God’s hand is seen through the environment. But He is not happy to always guide us like senseless horses or mules. He wants to guide us from within. Romans 8:14 says, “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.” We are God’s children and God’s life is within us. God not only guides us through the environment but also speaks to us and guides us from within through His Spirit. The Spirit dwells within us, and God’s will is revealed to us through our innermost being.

The book of Ezekiel tells us that God will “put a new spirit within you” (11:19). Again it says, “A new spirit will I put within you…I will put my Spirit within you” (36:26-27). We must distinguish between “a new spirit” and “my Spirit.” “My Spirit” refers to the Spirit of God, whereas “a new spirit” refers to our spirit at the time of our regeneration. This new spirit is like a temple, a home where the Spirit of God dwells. If we did not have a new spirit within us, God would not have given us His Spirit, and the Holy Spirit could not have dwelt within us. Throughout the ages God has been trying to give man His Spirit. However, man’s spirit was defiled, sin-ridden, dead, and fallen in the old creation. It was impossible for the Spirit of God to dwell in man even though this was His desire. Man has to receive a new spirit through regeneration before he can be in the position to receive God’s Spirit and before God can dwell in him.

Once a new believer has a new spirit, the Spirit of God dwells in him. The Spirit of God spontaneously communicates to him His will; he spontaneously has an inner sense. Not only is he able to discern God’s provision in the environment, but he also now possesses an inward knowledge and inward assurance. We should learn to trust not only in God’s sovereignty in the environment but also in the leading of the Holy Spirit within. At the right time and when the need arises, the Spirit of God will enlighten us within. He will give us a sense and show us what is of God and what is not of God. (Many times this inner sense is stronger than our five senses because we just “know” that God has spoken to us in our spirit.  It is much like the day you were saved.  You knew that you were a sinner.  You knew that the penalty for sin was death.  You knew inside that Jesus loved you and died for you.  Then when you prayed to ask Jesus to save you, you know that he heard you even though you could not see, hear, or touch him.  It was the inner sense in your spirit that gave you this knowledge.  It is the same with the leading of God through the Holy Spirit.  As God begins to lead you, it will be a strong sense and a “rest” that will come as you have no doubt that it is God’s Spirit leading you through that “still small voice” inside your spirit.)

One brother loved to drink before he became a believer. Every winter, he would drink much wine. He even made his own wine. Later, both he and his wife were saved. He was not very literate and could not read the Bible very well. One day he prepared some food and wine and was going to drink as before. After thanking the Lord for the food, he asked his wife, “Can a Christian drink wine?” His wife said, “I do not know.” He said, “Too bad no one is here to tell us.” His wife said, “The wine and the food are ready. Let us go ahead today and ask others afterward.” He gave thanks again but felt that something was not right. He thought that, as a Christian, he should find out whether Christians can take wine. He asked his wife to take out the Bible, but he did not know where to turn. He was stuck. Later, he met someone and told him about this incident. His friend asked whether or not he drank the wine that day. He answered, “In the end I did not drink it, because the householder within would not allow me. I did not drink the wine.”

If a man has the desire to obey God’s will, he will find out what this will is. Only those who are callous about their inner sense will remain in darkness. As long as one has the intention to obey God’s will, the “householder within” will guide him. The householder that our brother spoke of is actually the Holy Spirit. When a person believes in the Lord, the Holy Spirit dwells within him. He guides the believer and becomes his Master. God reveals His will not only through the environment but also through the “householder within.”

There are two kinds of leading of the Holy Spirit. The first is an inner urging, as in Acts 8:29 when “…. the Spirit said unto Philip, Go near, and join thyself to this chariot.” and in Acts 10:19-20 when the Holy Spirit said to Peter, “Arise therefore, and get thee down, and go with them, doubting nothing: for I have sent them.” These are inner urgings. The second kind of leading is an inner forbidding, as mentioned in Acts 16:6-7: “were forbidden of the Holy Ghost to preach the word in Asia,  After they were come to Mysia, they assayed to go into Bithynia: but the Spirit suffered them not.” This is the inner forbidding. The story of the “householder within” is a case of inner forbidding.

In order to know God’s will, a new believer should be somewhat familiar with the inner sense. The Spirit of God dwells in the innermost part of man. Hence, the feeling of the Spirit is not something shallow or outward; it issues from the deepest part of man’s being. It is a voice that is not quite a voice, a feeling that is not quite a feeling. The Spirit of God within shows us whether something is according to His will. Provided we have the divine life within, we will feel right when we act according to this life, and we will feel terrible and uneasy within if we disobey and deviate slightly from this life. A believer should live a life that yields to this life. We must not do things that will take away our inner peace. Whenever we sense any unrest, we should realize that the Holy Spirit within is displeased with what we are doing; He is grieved. If we do something that is contrary to the Lord, we will surely have no peace within. The more we go ahead with it, the less peace and joy we will have. If something is of the Lord, spontaneously we will have peace and joy.

However, do not over-analyze your inward feelings. If you keep analyzing whether or not something is right, you will be totally confused. Some people continue to ask what the feeling of the Holy Spirit is and what the feeling of the soul is. They are always analyzing whether something is right or wrong. This is very unhealthy; it is actually a spiritual sickness. It is very difficult to bring a self-analyzing person back to the proper path. I hope that you can avoid such a trap. Actually, a person analyzes only because he does not have enough light. If he has enough light, everything will be clear to him spontaneously, and he will not need to waste his energy on such analysis. If a person is sincere in trying to obey the Lord, it will be very easy for him to sense the inner leading.

C. The Teachings of the Scripture

God’s will is not only revealed through the environment and made known through the indwelling Spirit; it is also revealed to us through the Bible.

God’s will never changes. His will is revealed through the various experiences of men of the past, and all these things were recorded in the Bible. God’s will is revealed in the form of principles and examples in the Bible. To know God’s will, one must study the Bible carefully. The Bible is not a book of simple records, but a book rich in content. God’s will is fully unveiled through the Scripture. One needs only to find what God has said in the past, and he will know what God’s will is today. God’s will never wavers. In Christ there is only one yes (2 Cor. 1:19). God’s will for us never contradicts the teachings of the Bible. The Holy Spirit will never lead us to do something today that He has already condemned in the Bible.  (A great man once said, “Duties never conflict.”  This means that the will of God for a man or woman to be a parent will never conflict with the will of God to be in some kind of ministry or religious duty.  The will of God will never contradict the clear teachings of the Bible.  A wife may feel the call of God to the mission field and if her husband does not feel the same call then if she divorces him to become a missionary she is doing so against the teaching of scripture. The same can be said of two parents feeling the call to some ministry as being a pastor or missionary and because of this call they abandon the duties of parents, leaving the child to himself and many times to the wiles of the Devil in the life of the child.  I have seen many families where the parents are in the ministry but the children have been virtually abandoned on the sands of time and their lives become a wreck.  Some children even wind up divorced or on drugs while the parents are “doing the will of God.”  The first principle of moral law is to see the intrinsic value of God in your life but also to see the intrinsic value of others, friends, neighbors, and your own children.  If serving God causes you to abandon your own children and allow Satan to have full sway in their lives then you have a misplaced sense of the will of God.  I have seen this very thing by personal experience in my own life and in the lives of relatives of mine. )

God’s word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Psa. 119:105). If we want to understand God’s will and His leading for us, we must study the Bible carefully and seriously.

God speaks to us through the Bible in two ways: One is through the teaching of biblical principles, and the other is through the promises in the Bible. We need the Spirit’s enlightenment to understand biblical principles, and we need the Spirit’s leading to receive biblical promises. For example, the Spirit may speak to us through the Lord’s commandment in Matthew 28:19-20 that all Christians should preach the gospel. This teaching is a biblical principle. However, whether or not it is God’s will for you to go to a certain place to preach the gospel depends on the leading of the Spirit. You still have to pray much and ask God for a specific word. When the Holy Spirit puts a certain phrase or verse within you in a powerful, fresh, and living way, you have a promise from the Spirit. This is how you identify God’s will.

Some believers use superstitious ways to seek God’s will. They open the Bible before them and pray, “O God, please move my finger to the verse which reveals Your will.” After they pray with their eyes closed, they open their Bible and point their finger to any passage. Then they open their eyes and take the verse before them as God’s will. Some childish believers try to know God this way. Because they are desperate, God will sometimes accommodate their ignorance and show them the way. However, this is definitely not the proper way. It will not work with most people, and it will not work most of the time. It is dangerous, and there is a great possibility for mistakes with this way. Brothers and sisters, please remember that we have the divine life and that God’s Spirit is dwelling in us. We should ask God to reveal His word to us through the Holy Spirit. We should study the Bible conscientiously and consistently and memorize the Scripture well. When needs arise, the Holy Spirit will use the passages we have read to speak to us and to guide us.

Let us now combine the three things spoken of above. There is no fixed order for these three things. Sometimes, the arrangement of the environment comes first, followed by the leading of the Spirit and the teachings of the Bible. Sometimes, the Spirit’s leading and the teachings of the Bible come first, and afterward, the confirmation in the environment. The environment is related especially to God’s timing. In seeking after God’s will, Brother George Müller always asked three questions: (1) Is it God’s work? (2) Am I the person to do this work? (3) Is this God’s time for such a work to be done? The first and second questions can be resolved by the teaching of the Bible and the leading of the Spirit. The third question is settled by provisions in the environment.

If we want to be sure that our inward feeling is the leading of the Spirit, we should also ask two questions: (1) Does this leading match the teaching of the Bible? (2) Does the environment confirm this leading? If such a leading does not match the teaching of the Bible, it cannot be God’s will. If the environment does not give any confirmation, we should wait. Our feeling may be wrong, or it may not be the Lord’s timing.

In seeking God’s will, we should cultivate a healthy fear of making mistakes. We should not be subjective. We can ask God to block the ways that are not according to His will.

Suppose someone has invited you to work, and you have the intention to do a certain thing, or someone has advised you to reconsider your future, etc. How can you know whether these things are according to God’s will? First, you should look at the teaching of the Bible. You should find out what God has actually said about such matters in His Word. After this, you should check with your inner feeling. The Bible may teach this, but do you feel right within? If your inward feeling is different from the testimony of the Bible, it proves that your inward feeling is not reliable. You should continue to wait and seek the Lord. If your inward leading agrees with the testimony of the Bible, you should lift up your head and say, “O Lord, You have always revealed Your will through the environment. It is impossible for my inward feeling and the teaching of the Bible to both point to one direction, and yet have the environment point to a contrary direction. Lord! Please work in the environment and line it up with the Scripture’s teaching and the Spirit’s leading.” You will see that God always reveals His will through the environment. Not one sparrow will fall to the earth if it is not God’s will. If it is God’s will, what you see outwardly will surely line up with what you see inwardly and what you see from the Bible. If your inward sense, the teaching of the Bible, and the environment are all clear, then God’s will for you will also be clear.

III. THE CONFIRMATION OF THE CHURCH
AND OTHER FACTORS

God’s will is revealed through His Word, man’s spirit, and the environment. God’s will is also revealed through the church. In seeking God’s will concerning a certain matter, you should be clear about the Spirit’s leading, the Scripture’s teaching, and the environment’s provision. As much as it is possible, you should also fellowship with those who know God in the church to see whether they will say amen to your guidance. This will give you additional confirmation concerning God’s will. These ones know God’s Word more, their flesh has been dealt with somewhat, and they are under the direction of the Spirit. Their spiritual condition allows God to speak His heart more freely through them. They will consider your condition in the church, and they will sense whether or not they can say amen to what you have seen. If they can say amen, you can be sure that what you have is God’s will. If they cannot say amen to it, it is better for you to wait and seek more guidance. As individuals, we are limited. An individual’s personal feeling, understanding of the Scripture, and knowledge of the environment may be wrong; they may not be that accurate. The church is much more reliable in this respect. If the other members of the church think that the “guidance” you have is not reliable, you should not insist on your opinion. Do not think that your “guidance” is always reliable. In such cases we should learn to be humble.

Matthew 18 speaks of the principle of the church. If a brother sins against another brother, the offended one should speak to the offending one while they are alone with each other. If the offending party does not want to listen, the offended party should take with him one or two more. By the mouth of two or three witnesses, every word may be established. If the offending party still refuses to listen, the matter should be told to the church. In the end the offending one has to hear the church. We have to accept the feeling of the church. The Lord Jesus says, “Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (v. 18). Because the church is God’s habitation and the beacon of God’s light, we need to believe that God’s will is revealed in the church. We should humble ourselves and should be afraid of our own judgment. This is why we need to fellowship with the church and receive the supply of the Body.

The church has a heavy responsibility before God. It has to act as God’s light. If the church is careless or if it does things loosely according to the flesh, it will be impossible to have such a thing as the confirmation of the church. The church can render an accurate and divine confirmation because it has become the mouthpiece of the Holy Spirit. The church must be spiritual, and it must allow the Spirit to preside over it before it can be used by the Spirit to be God’s mouthpiece. The confirmation of the church does not mean a discussion among all the brothers and sisters in the church together. It means the speaking of a group of people who know God and who are being led by the Spirit. For this reason, the elders taking responsibility in the church, as well as those given to the Lord’s work, must have a certain amount of knowledge of spiritual things. Their flesh must be dealt with to a certain extent. They must be watchful at all times and have unceasing fellowship with the Lord. They must be full of God’s presence and must live under the direction of the Holy Spirit. Only then can there be accurate judgment, and only then will the Spirit give accurate confirmation through them.

Some people may quote Galatians 1:16-17, which says that when Paul received a revelation, he did not confer with flesh and blood, neither did he go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before him. They think that it is sufficient for them to be clear by themselves and that there is no need to fellowship with the church. No doubt a person with a clear revelation like Paul can be truly confident of what he sees. But have you received the revelation the way Paul received his? Even Paul received the Lord’s help and supply through other brothers. He saw the great light on the way to Damascus, fell to the ground, and heard what the Lord said to him alone: “Rise up and enter into the city, and it will be told to you what you must do.” He received the laying on of hands from an obscure brother named Ananias, and he also received the laying on of hands and the commissioning from co-workers in the church in Antioch (Acts 9:3-6, 12; 13:1-3). The words he spoke in Galatians 1 were to prove that the gospel announced by him was not according to man, but that he had “received it through a revelation by Jesus Christ” (vv. 11-12). There is no flavor of self-exaltation in such words. We should be humble and not intractable. We must not think highly of ourselves. The fact is that we are too far behind Paul to compare ourselves to him! Because we are the party involved, we are clouded by our own interests and subjectivity when we seek God’s will. It is difficult for us to see things clearly. This is where the church comes in; it can supply us and render us much help. This is why we should seek confirmation from the church when we are in need.

However, we should avoid another extreme. Some Christians are too passive. They ask the church about everything, and they want others to make decisions for them. This is against the principle of the New Testament. We cannot treat a group of spiritual people in the church as if they were the prophets in the Old Testament, asking them for advice in everything. First John 2:27 says, “But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him.  ” This anointing is the indwelling Holy Spirit. We can never replace the teaching of the anointing with the confirmation of the church. The confirmation of the church should not be regarded in the same way as one regards the words of the prophets. Its purpose is to confirm what we see so that we can be more assured of God’s will. It is a protection rather than a replacement of an individual’s pursuit of God’s will.

We should note one other point: This way of seeking God’s will should be applied only to important matters. As to the trivial affairs of daily life, we do not need to resort to such a method. We can make judgments according to our common sense. Our God has not eradicated our common sense. God wants us to make our own judgments concerning things that we can manage with our common sense. We need to employ this method only in seeking God’s will concerning the more important matters of our life.

In seeking God’s will, we must not fall into an abnormal state where the mind is blank and the will is passive. Hebrews 5:14 speaks of those “who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” We need to exercise our mind and will. We have to put our will on God’s side and co-labor with God. It is true that we should put aside our own will. But it is wrong to annul the function of the mind and the will, allowing them to be passive and void of function. Many people trust only in their intellect and not in God. This is a big mistake. But many people think that relying on God means that one does not need to use his mind. This is also a big mistake. When Luke wrote his gospel, it was “having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, ” (1:3). In Romans 12:2 Paul told us to ” transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” In seeking God’s will, we need to use our mind and our will. Of course, this mind and will have to be transformed and renewed by the Holy Spirit.

We need to briefly touch on the matter of visions and dreams as well. In the Old Testament God revealed His will to man through visions and dreams. In the New Testament there are also visions and dreams, but God does not use them as an essential means of guidance. In the New Testament the Spirit of God dwells in us and speaks to us directly from within. The chief and common means of guidance are the inward leading. God will lead us by dreams and visions only when He has something very important to say and it would not be easy for us to accept this leading under normal circumstances. In the New Testament visions and dreams are not the usual means of God’s leading. Therefore, even when we have visions and dreams, we should still safeguard ourselves by seeking the inward confirmation and the confirmation in the environment. For example, Acts 10 shows us that God wanted Peter to preach the gospel to the Gentiles. Peter, being a Jew, would never go to the Gentiles according to his tradition. In order to turn him from this prejudice, God had to show him a vision. After Peter saw the vision, Cornelius sent three men to him. This was the confirmation in the environment. At the same time there was also the speaking of the Holy Spirit. These internal and environmental confirmations assured him that he was acting according to God’s will.

Of course, there are cases when one has little time to consider or wait. At such times one can prove God’s will immediately if the vision or dream is clear and obvious and the feeling within approves it; there is no need to wait for the confirmation in the environment. For example, Paul was in a trance when he was praying in the temple. He saw the Lord speaking to him and charging him to leave Jerusalem without delay. At first he reasoned with the Lord and tried to refuse. But the Lord said to him again, “Depart: for I will send thee far hence unto the Gentiles.” (Acts 22:17-21). Later, Paul met a heavy storm at sea, and all hope of salvation was gone. God sent His angel to stand beside him and speak to him, telling him not to fear (27:23-24). These were all clear visions. But they do not occur frequently in the New Testament. God revealed things to His children in visions and dreams only when there was a special need. Some Christians have so many so-called dreams and visions that these are like everyday meals to them. This is a kind of spiritual sickness. It may come from some kind of nervous disorder, attack from Satan, or deception from evil spirits. Whatever the cause, this situation is abnormal.

In conclusion, God leads men by many ways. Everyone is different in his spiritual condition and needs. This is why God leads us in different ways. However, His main means are the arrangement in the environment, the inward leading, and the teachings in the Bible. We need to point out once again that when these three things are in line with one another, we can have the confidence that we have God’s will.

IV. THOSE WHO ARE QUALIFIED TO KNOW GOD’S WILL

Finally, even if we have all the right methods, not everyone knows God’s will. A right method is useful only when the person is also right. When the person is not right, even the right methods become useless. It is futile for a rebellious man to seek to know God’s will. If a man wants to know God’s will, he must have an inward yearning to do His will.

Deuteronomy 15:17 records the case of a slave who had his ear run through with an awl into the door. This shows that our ears have to listen to God’s word all the time if we are to serve Him. We should come to the Lord and say, “I am willing to thrust my ear to the door. I will incline my ears to Your word. I want to serve You and do Your will. I beseech You from my heart. I will serve You. You are my Master. I have an earnest yearning within my heart to be Your slave. Let me hear Your word. Let me know Your will.” We need to come before the Lord and plead for His word. We have to incline our ears and thrust them to the door. We have to wait for His commission and listen to His command.

Many times my heart aches over the fact that many people are looking for methods to know God’s will, but they have no desire to obey God’s will. They merely study such methods for the sake of knowledge. They have their own desires. They merely take God as their counselor and His will as their reference point. Brothers and sisters, God’s will is made known only to those who are determined to obey His will! “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God,” (John 7:17). In order to know God’s will, one must resolve to do His will. If you have an intense and absolute desire to do God’s will, God will make known His will to you even when you know nothing about the methods. There is a word in the Bible: “For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward Him” (2 Chron. 16:9). The literal translation of this verse is, “For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to shew himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him.” His eyes are running to and fro, from here to there. His eyes do not run through just once. Rather, they run continually to and fro to see whether anyone’s heart is after His will. He will appear to those whose heart is completely inclined toward Him. If your heart is completely inclined toward the Lord and you say, “Lord, I want Your will; I really want it,” God will show you His will. He will not refrain from revealing Himself to you; He has to reveal Himself to you. We should not think that only those who have believed in the Lord for a long time can understand His will. We hope that every believer will offer up everything he has from the day that he is saved. This will pave the way for him to understand God’s will.

We should never think that it is a trivial thing to know God’s will. We are little worms in God’s eyes. It is a tremendous thing for a tiny person like us to understand God’s will! May we see that it is a glorious thing to understand God’s will. Since God has humbled Himself to make His will known to man, we must seek to know His will, and we must worship, treasure, and do His will.

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(Written originally by Watchman Nee in China during the Chinese revolution and died in a prison camp but these lessons have been the foundation of my life for 38 years.  David Williams – site Admin.)

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