THE CHURCH AND GOD'S WORKPrint This Page.
If we really understand the nature of God's work, we shall readily admit that the outward man is truly a formidable hindrance. It is true to say that God is much restricted by man. The people of God should know the ultimate purpose of the Church and also the inter-relationships of the Church, of God's power, and of God's work.
God's Manifestation and God's RestrictionThere came a time when God committed Himself to human form-in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Before the Word became flesh, God's fullness knew no bounds. However, once the incarnation became a reality, His work and His power were limited to this flesh. Will this Man, Christ Jesus, restrict or manifest God ? We are shown by the Bible that, far from limiting God, He has instead wonderfully manifested God's fullness. The fullness of God is the fullness of this flesh.
In our day God commits Himself to the Church. His power and His work are in the Church. Just as in the Gospels we find all God's work given to the Son, so today God has entrusted all His works to the Church and will not act apart from it. From the Day of Pentecost up to the present, God's work has been carried out through the Church. Think of the Church's tremendous responsibility. God's committal to the Church is like His committal previously to one Man, Christ-without reservation or restriction. Thus the Church may restrict God's work or limit His manifestation.
Jesus of Nazareth is God Himself. His whole being from within to without is to reveal God. His emotions reflect God's emotions ; His thoughts reveal God's thoughts. While on this earth He could say : "Not that I should do My will, but the will of Him that has sent Me ... The Son. can do nothing of Himself save whatever He sees the Father doing ... For I have not spoken from Myself, but the Father who sent Me has Himself given Me commandment what I should say and what I should speak" (John 6:38; 5:19; 12:49). Here we see a Man to whom God is committed. He is the Word that became flesh. He is God becoming man. He is perfect. When the day came that God desired to distribute His life to men, that Man could declare: ". . . The grain of wheat falling into the ground ... if it die. .. bears much fruit" (John 12:24). Thus God has chosen the Church to be His vessel today-the vessel of His speaking, for the manifestation of His power and of His working.
The basic teaching of the Gospels is the presence of God in one Man, while that of the epistles is God in the Church. May our eyes be opened to the glorious fact : God formerly dwelt in the Man Jesus Christ, but now God is only in the Church, not in any other organization.
When this light dawns on us, we will spontaneously lift up our eyes to heaven saying, "Oh, God ! How much we have hindered Thee!" In Christ, the Almighty God was still almighty without suffering any restriction or straitening. What God expects today is that this same power may remain intact as He resides in the Church. He would be as free in manifesting Himself in the Church as He was in Christ. Any restriction or disability in the Church will invariably limit God. This is a most serious thing; we do not mention it lightly. The hindrance in each of us constitutes a hindrance to God.
Why is the discipline of the Holy Spirit so important? Why is the dividing of spirit and soul so urgent? It is because God must have a way through us. Let no one think that we are only interested in individual spiritual experience. Our concern is God's way and His work. Is God free in our lives? Unless we are dealt with and broken through discipline, we shall restrict God. Without the breaking of the outward man, the Church cannot be a way for God.
Breaking-God's Way of Working
Let us now proceed to consider how the breaking of the outward man will affect our reading of God's Word, our being ministers of the Word, and our preaching the gospel.
(1) Reading the Bible: It is beyond question that what we ARE determines what we get out of the Bible. How often man in his conceit relies on his unrenewed and confused mind to read the Bible. The fruit is nothing but his own thought. He does not touch the spirit of the Holy Word. If we expect to meet the Lord in His Word. our thoughts must first be broken by God. We may think highly of our cleverness, but to God it is a great obstacle. It can never lead us into God's thought.
There are at least two basic requirements for reading the Bible : first, our thought must enter into the thought of the Bible; and second, our spirit must enter into the spirit of the Bible. You must think as the writer-whether Paul, Peter or John-when he is writing the Word. Your thought must begin where his thought begins, and develop as his develops. You must be able to reason as he reasons and to exhort as he exhorts. In other words, your thought must be geared to his thought. This will allow the Spirit to give you the precise meaning of the Word.
Think of a person coming to the Bible with his mind already set. He reads the Bible to get support for his preconceived doctrines. How tragic ! An, experienced person, after hearing such a one speak for five or ten minutes, can discern whether the speaker is using the Bible for his own ends or if his thought has entered into the thought of the Bible. There is a difference in realm here. One may stand up and give a pleasing, seemingly scriptural message, but actually his thought is contradictory to the thought of the Bible. Or we may hear someone preach whose thought expresses the thought of the Bible and is therefore harmonious and united with it. Though this condition should be the norm, not all reach it. To unite our thought with the thought of the Bible, we need to have the outward man broken. Do not think our Bible reading is poor because of a lack of instruction. The defect is rather in us because our thoughts have not been subdued by God. So to be broken is to cease from our own activities and from our subjective thinking, and to gradually begin to touch the mind of the Lord and follow the trend of thought of the Bible. Not until the outward man is broken, can we enter into the thought of God's Word.
Now while this is important, we have yet to mention the primary matter. The Bible is more than words, ideas and thoughts. Thus the most outstanding feature of the Bible is that God's Spirit is released through this Book. When a writer, whether Peter, John, Matthew or Mark, is inspired by the Holy Spirit, his renewed mind follows the inspired thought and his spirit is released with the Holy Spirit. The world cannot understand that there is a spirit in God's Word, and that that spirit can be released just as it is manifested in prophetic ministry. Today if you are listening to a prophetic message, you will realize that there is a mystic something other than word and thought present. This you can clearly sense, and may well call it the spirit in God's Word.
There is not only THOUGHT in the Bible; the SPIRIT ITSELF comes forth. Thus, it is only when your spirit can come out and touch the spirit of the Bible that you can understand what the Bible says. To illustrate, let's think of a naughty boy who deliberately breaks a neighbor's window. The neighbor comes out and gives him quite a tongue-lashing. When the boy's mother learns of the mischief, she also rebukes him severely. But somehow there is a difference in spirit between the two scoldings. The one is ill-tempered, given in an angry spirit ; the other expresses love, hope, and training. This is just a simple example. The Spirit who inspires the writing of the Scriptures is the eternal Spirit, ever present in the Bible. If our outward man has been broken, our spirit is released and can touch that Spirit who inspires the Scriptures. Otherwise, the Bible will remain as a dead book in our hands.
(2) Ministry of the Word: God desires that we understand His Word, for this is the starting point of spiritual service. He is equally anxious to put His Word as a burden in our spirit so that we may use it to minister to the Church. In Acts 6:4 we read, "But we will give ourselves up to prayer and the ministry of the word." "Ministry" means serving. So the ministry of the word means serving people with the Word of God.
In ministry what is our difficulty that we fail to release the word within us? Often one may be heavily burdened with a word which he feels he must communicate to the brethren. However, as he stands to speak sentence after sentence, the inner burden remains as heavy as ever. Even after an hour has passed, there is no sense of relief, and finally he must leave as heavily burdened as when he came. Why? It is because his outward man has not been broken. Instead of being a help, the soul faculties become an obstacle to the inward man.
Yet once the outward man is broken, utterance is no longer a problem. One can then think of appropriate words to express his inner feeling. Through release, the inner burden is lightened. This is the way to minister God's Word to the Church. So we repeat: the outward man is the greatest hindrance to the ministry of the Word.
Many have the erroneous notion that clever people are best able to be used. How wrong ! No matter how clever you are, the outward man can never substitute for the inward man. Only after the outward man is broken can the inward find adequate thought and appropriate words. The shell of the outward man must be smashed by God. The more it is shattered, the more the life in the spirit is released. As long as this shell remains intact, the burden in the spirit cannot be released, nor can God's life and power flow from you to the Church. It is mostly through the ministry of the Word that God's life and power are supplied. Unless your inward man is released, people can only hear your voice; they cannot touch life. You may have a word to give, but others fail to receive; you have no means of utterance.
The difficulty is that the life within fails to flow out. There is a word within. you, but you cannot utter it. The work of God is going on within, yet it cannot be manifested because of the obstacle without. God does not have a free way in you.
(3) Preaching the Gospel: There is a common misconception that people believe the gospel because they have been either mentally convinced of the doctrinal correctness or emotionally stirred by its appeal. In actual fact, those who respond to the gospel for either of these two reasons do not last long. Intellect and emotion need to be reached, but these alone are insufficient. Mind may reach mind and emotion may reach emotion, but salvation probes much deeper. Spirit must touch spirit. Only when the spirit of the preacher blossoms forth and shines do sinners fall down and capitulate to God. This is the proper spirit necessary in preaching the gospel.
A miner greatly used by God wrote a book called SEEN AND HEARD, in which he relates his experiences in preaching the gospel. We were deeply touched in reading this book. Though just an ordinary brother, neither highly educated nor especially gifted, he offered himself wholly to the Lord and was mightily used by Him. One thing characterized him: He was a broken man; his spirit was pure. While in a meeting listening to a preacher, he was so burdened for souls that he asked the preacher for permission to speak. He went to the pulpit, but no words came. His inner man so burned with a passion for souls that his tears gushed forth in torrents. In all, he managed to utter just a few incoherent sentences. Yet God's Spirit filled that meeting place; people were convicted of their sins and their lost estate. Here was a young man who was broken-had few words, but when his spirit came forth people were mightily moved. In reading his autobiography, we recognize that here was one whose spirit was wholly released. He was the instrument for saving many in his lifetime.
This is the way to preach the gospel. Whenever you see someone who is unsaved, you sense you should give him the gospel. You must allow your spirit to be released. To preach the gospel is purely a matter of having the outward -man broken so that the inward man can flow forth and touch others. When your spirit touches another's spirit, God's Spirit quickens that spirit which is in darkness so that one may be wonderfully saved. However, if your spirit is bound by the outward man, God has no outlet in you and the gospel is blocked. This is why we focus so much attention on the dealing with the outward man. If we lack that dealing, we are powerless to win souls, though we may have all the doctrines memorized. Salvation comes when our spirit touches another's spirit. Then that soul cannot but prostrate himself at God's feet. Oh Beloved, when our spirit is truly released, souls will surely be saved.
Once people are saved, God does not want them to wait before dealing with sins, to wait more years before consecration, and to wait still longer before answering the call to really follow the Lord. As soon as people believe, they should immediately turn from their sins, wholly consecrate themselves to the Lord, and break the power of mammon. Their story should be like those recorded in the Gospels and in the Acts. To restore the gospel to its glory, the Lord must have a way in the lives of the messengers of the gospel.
In these years we have been *wholly convinced the Lord is working toward recovery. The gospel of grace and the gospel of the kingdom must be joined together. In the Gospels, these two are never separated. Only in later years does it seem that those who have heard the gospel of grace know little or nothing of the gospel of the kingdom. Thus the two have been separated. But the time is ripe for them to be united, so that people are thoroughly saved, forsaking everything and wholly consecrating themselves to the Lord.
Let us bow our heads before the Lord and acknowledge that the gospel and the messengers of the gospel must be recovered. For the gospel to enter into men we must allow God to be manifested through us. As the effective preaching of the gospel requires more power, so the messengers of the gospel must pay a higher price. We must put everything on the altar. Let us pray thus : "Lord, I put my all on the altar. Find a way through me that the Church may also find in me a way. I would not be one who blocks Thee and blocks the Church."
The Lord Jesus never restricted God in any way. For nearly two thousand years, God has been working in the Church towards the day when the Church will no longer restrict Him. As Christ fully manifests God, so shall it be with the Church. Step by step God is instructing and dealing with His children; again and again we sense His hand upon us. So shall it be until that day when the Church is indeed the full manifestation of God. Today let us turn to the Lord and confess : "Lord, we are ashamed. We have delayed Thy work; we have hindered Thy life; we have blocked the spread of the gospel, and we have limited Thy power." Individually in our hearts let us commit ourselves to Him afresh, saying : "Lord, I put my all on the altar, that Thou mayest get a way in me." If we expect the gospel to be fully recovered, we must thoroughly consecrate ourselves to God even like those in the early Church. For the gospel to be recovered, consecration must be recovered. Both must be thorough. May God have an outlet through us.