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“And they sold their properties and possessions and divided them to all, as anyone had need” (Acts 2:45).
“For neither was anyone among them in need; for as many as were owners of lands or of houses sold them and brought the proceeds of the things which were sold and placed them at the feet of the apostles; and it was distributed to each, as anyone had need” (Acts 4:34-35).
“And in these days, as the disciples were multiplying in number, a murmuring of the Hellenists against the Hebrews occurred, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily dispensing” (Acts 6:1).
“Let a widow be enrolled, not under sixty years old, having been the wife of one man” (1 Tim. 5:9).
Today we want to come to the sixth matter, that is, the affairs of the service office—the church business office or work office.
In the New Testament it is quite amazing that the arrangement concerning the spiritual aspect of the church is shown in a very detailed and complete way. Concerning the arrangement of practical affairs, however, the Bible tells us only that there was such an arrangement. It does not tell us how the practical affairs were arranged. The Bible speaks in great detail regarding how the spiritual gifts should operate, how the meetings should be conducted, and how the goal of the meetings should be for the building up. It is also sufficiently clear how the church is organized and how the church is local and has brothers, deacons, and elders. It is also quite clear how these elders, who are the overseers, should behave in the church. This time we have seen that the work is also regional. Within a region there are apostles being sent out by God to work and later returning to their own center of work. It is also very clear that there are apostles who take care of the affairs of the church in that region. The Bible, regarding spiritual things, has given us very clear guidance. If any person before God is sufficiently simple, sufficiently pure, sufficiently careful, and willing to learn, then he will not have much problem in understanding the ordination of God; he can obtain clear light.
In the New Testament one peculiar thing we repeatedly see is that the church needs a great many arrangements, yet the Bible does not spend much time speaking of the arrangements of practical affairs. It is very reluctant to mention these things.
Today I especially want to read the three portions in Acts. Two passages tell us that we should distribute to people according to each one’s need; one passage tells us that a few widows, the Hellenist sisters, were overlooked. The church in Jerusalem at that time had tens of thousands of people, but today you read only these few words: “Distributed to each, as anyone had need.” You see that it was very simple. But today in Foochow there are only one thousand believers; yet we still are not able to find out everyone’s need. In Shanghai there are a little more than one thousand believers, and we still do not know what the actual need of everyone is. At that time in Jerusalem there were tens of thousands of believers, all newly saved. How could the apostles distribute “to each, as anyone had need”? Please remember how much work and arrangements were needed among them. This is not a matter of one or two days, nor a matter of one or two persons, nor a problem of one or two meals; this is everyone’s need.
I believe that anyone who has managed practical affairs knows how difficult this is. For instance, this time on the mountain we have only one hundred persons, and already we are aware of the difficulties. We have three or four brothers at the foot of the mountain and two or three brothers up here. They are busy specifically for these one hundred. They still cannot do a perfect job. What would it take to care for over ten thousand people! The Bible simply says, “Distributed to each, as anyone had need.” It was a problem to find out how many “each”s were there. It was another problem to find out the needs of these “each”s, and even more of a problem to distribute to their need. Even though there are only seven words here, we do not know how much labor is involved with these seven words, how many problems, how many responsibilities, how many records, how much calculation is in the background, and how many people need to be sent out to do the distribution. However, this is a peculiar thing in the Bible. Although what they were doing may have taken several days to complete or even several months, the Bible simply records it in a few words, as if the thing happened within half an hour. The events on the day of Pentecost were recorded in great detail, but when it comes to distributing “to each, as anyone had need,” which is related to the management of practical affairs, the Bible does not give us a detailed record.

The Need to Arrange Practical Affairs
Therefore, today I want the brothers to learn something here, because there is a basic principle. We have to learn to see that there are two aspects. On the one hand, the Bible clearly shows us that arrangements are needed for practical affairs. There may be brothers among us who misunderstand to the point that they think that practical affairs need no arrangements. They seem to think that things will take care of themselves. There is no such thing. The Bible clearly tells us to distribute to each, as anyone has need. In this there is arrangement, not careless dividing and careless distributing. It is distributing to each, as anyone has need. Therefore, please remember there are arrangements. There are affairs that are carried out in a clear and strict way with clear procedures.
The Persons Being Important,Not the Method
On the other hand, I want the brothers and sisters to take note that God does not emphasize these arrangements. God has arrangements, but God did not record all these arrangements in the Bible. The fact that there are arrangements is spoken of in the Bible, but the method of arrangements is not recorded. God does not recognize that the method of the arrangements is important enough to need to be recorded in the Bible. Perhaps you will ask why. I would like you to know that there is the need of people who have the wisdom and the spiritual way before God to be able to obtain the spiritual wisdom from above. If a person is one who can receive God’s grace, he will receive grace even when he is handling practical affairs. If a person is one who is filled with the Holy Spirit, he will know how to carry out spiritual affairs; he will also be a skillful worker to build up God’s tabernacle. This is also a spiritual work. Therefore, God wants us to pay attention to learning spiritual matters. From the beginning to the end of the Bible you can see spiritual arrangements and spiritual principles, but you do not see the arrangement of practical affairs. It is not that the arrangement of practical affairs does not exist, but very little is said concerning it. The fact is recorded, but not the method.
The Danger of Recording Methods
God knows the temptations and the dangers that are in man. After a period of time what is spiritual is lost, but a whole set of business procedures still remains. There can be such a situation with us that the method of taking care of things is of God, but the person who carries it out may not be a spiritual person. If the rules, the details, and the methods by which the apostles took care of practical affairs were clearly laid before us, the readers of the Bible would love to learn these methods first and would not learn to be spiritual first. Because man is of the flesh, man would rather learn what is of the flesh than learn what is spiritual. When many brothers hear about baptism, they argue whether baptism is by immersion into water or by sprinkling. Only afterwards do they pay attention to what the spiritual significance is. Man does not pay attention to the significance of baptism; he argues first about the outward method and circumstance. This is man’s nature. Therefore, if there were a handbook for carrying out practical matters in the Bible, I am afraid that the twenty-seven books of the New Testament would be cast aside and this handbook would be the book everyone would have to read. This handbook would gain the attention of the church and would have gained the attention of Christians throughout all the centuries. Therefore, in the Bible there is this characteristic: God shows us only His grace but not His methods for doing things.
There are many churches that have published such handbooks. You may have seen in church history that every time God had a revival, He gained many people, and He used one or a few servants to raise up a group of people. After some days they realized that the church needed some arrangement concerning practical affairs. Therefore, they made many arrangements for church affairs. For fear that they might forget about these arrangements, they recorded them, kept the records, and used them as procedures for doing things so that they could have rules to follow. After some time the spiritual blessing leaked out, the living water was lost, and the power was gone. The second generation could not match the first, the third generation could not match the second, and the spiritual blessing almost completely leaked out; however, the procedures for doing things still remained. This has been the situation of Protestantism.
Therefore, in the Bible we see that God does not tell us the methods for doing things; rather, He left the methods for doing things to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to the filling of the Holy Spirit, and to the Holy Spirit Himself giving wisdom. This was to avoid a day when the shell would be present, the methods would be present, the procedures would be present, but the blessing would be gone, the living water would be gone, and the spiritual power would be gone. This is a fundamental problem. In church history a method comes out when a group of people are raised up. Yet only the method remains by the time of the second, third, and fourth generation.
For this reason, we have avoided having a method all these years. We do not want a method among us. If the spiritual power is there, if the spiritual life is there, and if we always have the Lord’s blessing, then maintaining a method is appropriate. If one day all these spiritual things leak out and all that remains is a method, then that will be like the situation that has existed in Protestantism for so many years. All that remains is an empty frame with all of the inward spiritual things having leaked out. Therefore, we never want a method to come out.

Not Going to the Other Extreme
However, today we cannot go to the other extreme. Many people do so, thinking that there is absolutely no method in the church. I want you to pay attention to this one thing. You are people who study the Bible. You need to see that there are definitely methods in the Bible. Just look at the arrangement at the time of Pentecost. You will see that there was definitely a method to carry out affairs. Frankly speaking, even if you had only one or two thousand people, you would be unable to deal with the situation. If you were like the apostles with over ten thousand people, there would be total confusion. We see that the record of the Bible, however, only touches the matter lightly and then goes on. There are not too many words, but just one phrase: “Distributed to each, as anyone had need.” It seems very simple. Behind these few words, however, much work was done. Therefore, I want you brothers to be able to see that during the time of the apostles there were methods for doing things in the churches. But God did not want to leave these methods for later generations to imitate. If God’s Spirit is working in a certain place, a method for doing things will naturally come out. If the Lord blesses greatly on a certain occasion, a method will come out spontaneously. When the spiritual blessing dies out, the method for doing things will die out with it. We have no desire that the days of the methods for doing things would be even one day longer than the days of blessing.
We hope, brothers, that you will find a way between these two extremes. There are groups of people, such as the Protestants, who always pay attention to the method. Please remember that the less water a glass has, the more people examine the exterior of the glass. When the glass is no longer used to hold water, it is hung up on the wall as an antique. People always pay attention to external things. We know that God does not allow such things to remain. However, it is not that there are no methods. Chapter six of Acts shows us very clearly that since the problem of a few widows of the Hellenists was not solved, the apostles felt that this matter was not taken care of properly. There were only a few widows who had an unresolved problem among more than ten thousand people. Yet the apostles were not satisfied.
Remember the words that Paul spoke to Timothy. It seems that Timothy recorded the names of the widows in a record book. But in the Bible you cannot find out what a widow’s book is. It was mentioned in a casual way. It seems that Timothy was very familiar with this record book. Paul did not say to set up a record book of a certain size, nor did he say how to fill it in. He did not say any of this. He only spoke of enrolling the widows. This means that at that time everyone knew about this way. Later, he simply said not to enroll anyone in a careless way. A problem was discovered—only those sixty years old and above should be enrolled—and the matter was thus settled. He did not say where this record book came from or where it should go.
Prayer Being Neededconcerning How to Carry Things Out
I do not know whether you know this way. In the Bible there are arrangements and there is a record book, but the Bible does not emphasize the details related to this record book. God does not want to spend the effort to speak even two more sentences about it. What is there is sufficient for us when we need to carry out some affairs. There is a principle that there is the need for a record book. The principle of a record book is here, but as to the way of setting up this record book, you and I need to pray: “Lord, we know that in the early church there was a record book, but we do not know how to set it up. Lord, teach us how to do it.” We know that there are arrangements in the church on the one hand, and we need to endeavor before God to find the way on the other hand. God is not willing to lay out before us in the Bible a detailed form of a record book that we can conveniently use to know how to do the work so that we do not need to pray at all. Please remember that God is not willing to do this.
Brothers, I want you to see this before God. Do not pay attention to the method for doing things, because that is dead. Once you pay attention to the method, you will make things dull and deadened. The methods will be set up in such a strong way that one day, when the spiritual blessing is lost, the empty frame of a corpse will still remain. Neither do I want the brothers and sisters to be careless, not expending even a little effort to find out how to take care of affairs, nor ever considering a way to do things in the church. This is also wrong. The Bible does not tell us how to work, but there is a principle in doing things. Today we need to seek out that way. It is not that God does not have a way; God does have a way. Let us be careful never to be so spiritual that we do not have any methods at all. There was still a method there—“Distributed to each, as anyone had need.” We still need to carry this out.
The Need for a Service Office
If there were only seven or eight believers in a local church or if there were only two or three gathered into the name of the Lord, we would not need a business office. If there are a good number of saints in a locality, one hundred, several hundred, or more than a thousand, it would be difficult and confusing without a business office. This is the first problem. Today we want to see something regarding the methods the apostles used to do things in their time.
The Principle of the Record Book
From my point of view, the second thing that I want to specifically point out is the principle of the record book. This is the principle of the widows being enrolled in the record book. If the record book were a method instead of a principle, then God would have told us the length and the thickness of it and its format. But God described the record book in a very brief way. Therefore, you are able to know that there is a principle of the record book. If anything in God’s Word is described with only one phrase without any details, then you know that that matter is a principle in the Bible and is, therefore, not in detail.

Man’s Memory Not Reliable
Why do we need a record book? We need it because man’s memory is not reliable. People depend on their memory to do things. If a person’s memory is not reliable, he will not be able to do things. If he sometimes remembers and sometimes forgets, what shall he do in order to carry out anything? Of course, I recognize that some brothers and sisters among us have very good memories. But if one day your memory were faulty, what would you do? What is recorded in the record book is likely to be more accurate than what is in your memory.
Not Easy to Find People
Furthermore, even if one’s memory is good, it may be difficult to find him. The one who is taking care of this matter may remember everything, but if he has gone away, what shall we do? If there were a record book, we could open it and read and understand the situation. When Timothy was in the church in Ephesus, he had to take care of the churches in the surrounding area, establishing elders to take care of them. When Timothy went to Rome and Titus went to Jerusalem, what would have been done concerning the problems of the widows if there had been no record books? Maybe they would have had to send a person to Rome to ask Timothy. If Timothy had said, “I have forgotten what I did. I do not know whether I moved one from Pergamos to here or one from Thyatira to there. I have forgotten.” Then what would have been done? If record books were there, no one would need to remember, and anyone could open them up.
Therefore, we need to see that church records and the keeping of records in the church are important. This is the principle of the record book. You cannot say that you or I will remember. The whole point is to write it down. It does not matter who it is; once time passes, even the one with the best memory can forget. In the world there are not that many people who can still remember things accurately after many years have passed. Even if you can remember, if suddenly you cannot be found, what shall we do? Therefore, the principle of having the record book comes in. The New Testament does not show us how to write things down in this record book or what kind of records we should keep, but the Lord has shown us that keeping records should be our principle. Therefore, many church matters need to be recorded in a good way.
For this reason, we hope that any church with a considerable number of people would have a business office. If you do not want to use this name, there is no problem. You can call it whatever name you choose. In Shanghai it is called the service office because deacons are the ones taking care of affairs there all the time. We want to keep this principle. We do not want to be like many Protestants who pay attention to these titles; we only want to do things according to the principle. In the church it is acceptable to call it the service office or the business office. The business office is a secular term; the service office is a name given by us.
For Contacting One Another
In this office the main work is to do two things. One is to meet the need of the brothers and sisters who wish to discuss matters face to face. In a local church there is not much problem if there are not many brothers and sisters. If a church is in a large city or the number of brothers and sisters is more than several hundred, it is not easy to find someone. If someone comes from out of town, he would not know whom to look for. Therefore, the deacons in the church should come to the business office to work. There must be a place, and there must be someone available so that when people come, you have a way to make arrangements to take care of them. You should distribute to each, as anyone has need. You should have a place to keep records, knowing what the needs are, how many people there are, how many family units there are, and how many children there are. There should always be someone supervising and arranging. In other words there must be a place for making arrangements and for contacting one another in order to take care of matters. This is the first use of the service office: mutual contact of one another. Otherwise, if some brother or sister comes to that church to look for other brothers and sisters, he would not know where to go to look for them. There must be a place where he can find them. I do not know if you have seen this principle or not. Such contact with one another requires a business office, or we might call it the service office.
For Keeping Many Records
The second use of the service office is for keeping many records. There are a considerable number of affairs in the church. Every week there are quite a few letters of recommendation written and sent out, quite a few announcements to be made, quite a few things to pray for, quite a few people to be received, and quite a few people baptized. All these things need to be recorded. There may be brothers and sisters who have moved; there may be some who are sick and some who have family problems. It will not work to have one or two persons trying to remember all these things. Even if you could remember all this, when anyone needed to check the information, he would have to look for you, but even so, he could not look into your mind. People need something that they can open up and look into.
I do not mean that these things need to be kept forever. I hope that when the spiritual aspects are gone, these things will be gone too. When there are blessings, these things and these methods are needed. When the blessing is gone, there will be no need for these methods to exist. However, as long as there is blessing, before God we need to seek a way for an arrangement to be made to meet the need. There is a need for a place, for someone to serve, and for the records to be available. This place is our business office. Both the place and the personnel must be available; then it will be possible for all the affairs to be handled. Someone needs to be there to receive people. The records need to be readily available. There should be no need to ask a certain brother for information, for man’s memory is not reliable, and man’s life is not reliable either. Having records available is more stable and more reliable.
I want the brothers and sisters to understand why we need to have the service office. For what purpose have we had a service office in Shanghai since 1938? The service office meets the local needs and is able to take good care of the affairs of the brothers and sisters. If you do not intend to take good care of the affairs of the saints, then you do not need an office. If you remember, you remember; if you do not remember, you just let it go. That is easy. If, however, you want everything to be well taken care of, you must have the service office.

For this reason we need a training; we need some knowledge concerning this matter. Therefore, I hope that in all the places, although we do not need to be in absolute uniformity, our procedures would be somewhat similar. I believe that the needs among us are similar. Bear in mind that what we should do will be according to the principle of Acts 2 through 6, according to the principle of the record book. We ask God to give us a method which will match our need. In the Bible there is a method to take care of things, but the Bible does not pass it on. So we also do not expect to pass on our method. Those in the beginning had a need; therefore, they sought out a method. Presently, a few of our brothers have found a suitable method. Perhaps there will be a new method, another method, after five or ten years to meet the need of that time.
The Need for a Room to Receive People
Since there is such a need, there is a place, which we temporarily call the service office. At least in this place we can put a few tables and a few shelves. The place needs to be large enough to accommodate those who are looking for others. We should be able to receive people and handle all the affairs. This place can be either near the meeting place or within the meeting hall.
The Need for People to Work in the Office
Second, there is a need for people to be in the office, especially a group of deacons, to learn to take care of others. Of course, it is good for some brothers and sisters to come and help, but it is best to let the deacons bear the responsibility.
Brothers and Sisters Taking Turns to Work
It would be very easy for the church to use the funds from the offering box to hire people to work for the whole day, but I feel that this is not the church. If the church can spend money to hire Levites, it can also spend money to hire priests. This would restore the system of salaries. I hope that the work of the Levites and the priests would be done without pay and by brothers and sisters who take turns. Therefore, it is the same with the work in the business office. (Forgive me for using the word business, which is a secular term.) I would like for the brothers and sisters to separate some time during the week to put themselves into this kind of Levitical work. One brother may be willing to give one day. Another brother may be willing to give two days, an hour, or two hours. In this way there will be brothers and sisters taking care of the practical affairs in the office.
For Notification and Inquiry
One brother may want to notify us that another brother is sick. He only needs to come to the service office, and the deacons can immediately notify the responsible brothers or other brothers. Perhaps after a short time, the service office can send out this information. The service office should always have a set of pre-addressed envelopes. Whenever something happens, they can prepare copies of the information either by mimeograph or by hand and immediately mail them out. As soon as something occurs, the brothers and sisters throughout the whole city could be informed within one or two hours. Whenever they have time in the service office, they should address the envelopes and prepare them for later use. We are not copying the methods of the world, but we have to take care of affairs.
For example, during the past ten years or more in Shanghai, if you did not know where a brother resided, you could telephone the service office. All that is needed is to check the card file. Perhaps that brother went to Nanking and would not return for one or two days. If there had been no service office, it would not have been easy for you to find him. We are not copying the ways of the world; we want God’s children to know how to handle affairs.
In another case someone may go to another locality. The church in that locality may write to ask if that person was baptized in our midst as he has claimed. If the elder says that he does not know, or that this person seems to have been there before, what can we do? When the number of brothers and sisters increases and the number of baptized ones also increases, there is the need for records. If you have the records, once you look them up, you will find out. This one was baptized on a certain date and met with us for more than two years, but since then we have not seen him. Today this one has been found in another city. We know what his situation was during those two years, but not since then. Now we can ask him: “Since those two years, where have you been? Whom have you met with?” Then there is a way to take care of him and to help him. Things of this sort require records.
Today in a large city like Shanghai or in a place like Foochow, there are district meetings. When anyone comes to ask about the location of the meeting place or about the time when the responsible brothers can be found, someone needs to be available to answer these questions. Therefore, everyone who serves in the business office should know these answers and be able to reply immediately and render help. If there is something the serving one cannot handle, he should refer the matter to the responsible brothers. If the serving one can handle the matter, there is no need to look for the responsible brothers. Otherwise, the responsible brothers would need to receive people all day long, and they would not have any way to get anything done. Many things need to pass through the hands of the deacons, and from the hands of the deacons to the hands of the responsible brothers or to their homes.
I thank God that during the time of the apostles, they handled their affairs well. We can see this because the apostles heard the murmurings concerning the Hellenist widows. It was the duty of the brothers and sisters who were deacons and deaconesses to have their eyes open. Once something happened, they notified the responsible brothers. Then, as you can see, Peter immediately took action. Therefore, in order to take good care of a church, it is not as complicated before God as we think, like Protestantism is. Neither is it as simple as we think. Protestantism has too much organization, but we have overthrown the biblical organization. Both are wrong. Therefore, we need to have a place to conduct business.

For Receiving Others, Caring for Others,and Speaking the Word
Next, we need to have someone there to receive people every day. From morning to evening, if anyone comes to ask about something, there should always be someone there to answer. Therefore, you need to tell the local brothers and sisters to serve not only in other matters but also in the business office. However, the service office should devote a great deal of time every day to helping the church. From the viewpoint of some people, this is not spiritual. We can answer by saying that David said that he would rather be a doorkeeper in God’s temple. We should not be spiritual to such an extent that we could not keep the door of the Holy of Holies well. Do not consider that the Levites and the priests are different. Both are important! Without the Levitical service, there is no church. May we all have a heart to serve two or three hours in the church taking care of God’s affairs, serving God, and serving His people so that the entire Body will go forward. Never make the work your own work. We need the entire Body to work there and to learn there. Therefore, we need brothers and sisters to come and be on duty to take care of the affairs.
There are many church affairs that require face to face discussion. For example, how do we make arrangements for brothers from out of town? Some brothers coming to your place do not know the way, so you have to pick them up. Or how should you take care of orphans and widows who are passing through your place? There may be some people coming to your place to look for certain brothers and sisters, but because they do not know their way, they need deacons to help them. There are many things that the church needs to do. Seek out some who have the time to help those in need. Often there are accidents, family problems, and sicknesses. The church should be notified of these things immediately. The brothers who are deacons need to find brothers at once who can help these ones.
Some people find their way to the church meeting place to hear a message, and there are many who knock on the door and want to come in to hear the gospel. You cannot say that the owner is not home, that you do not know how to speak, or that you are a servant. When people come to the door, either you yourself take care of him or find a brother to come right away to preach to him. In the future, if God grants us grace and we distribute tracts in an adequate way, many people will come knocking on the door of the meeting hall to hear the gospel as a result. You cannot say it is not yet time for the meeting. You need to speak to them, or perhaps ask them to take a seat while you find another person to come to speak to them. It will happen very naturally that people will want to hear the gospel. Therefore, I hope you will pay attention to this service office; you need a place and you need deacons.
For Recording Various Worksand Keeping a Name List
Third, you need to always remember the principle of the record book. The deacon on duty needs to record all of the matters in the business office, with the exception of things that happen incidentally or things that still need to be carried out. In other words, except for the slips of paper underneath the glass on the table, the rest of the matters, which are those that have already been carried out and are finished, need to be recorded. The procedure that was used to carry these things out should be written down, and the record kept there. In this way, when the need arises to check the facts, they can be known. These records are very important. All of the people baptized in a meeting must be recorded. All of the people received in a meeting must be recorded. All of the people who have had hands laid on them in a meeting must be recorded. All of the letters of recommendation sent out from a meeting must be recorded. Furthermore, copies of all the letters of recommendation must be kept on file. In every meeting place there must be a record of the names of all the brothers and sisters, their address, age, date of salvation, and any other important information, such as the date of their spiritual turns or their present spiritual condition. Everything must be written down completely. All those who have signed their names in the gospel meetings need to be recorded. You need to have the new believers go to visit those who came to the gospel meetings. Whatever number of people came to hear the gospel, that many new believers are needed to go and visit them and care for them. These new believers need just as many older believers to care for them as well. These new believers are there, one generation after another. You need to record their affairs in detail. Through this you will know the present situation of those who are being cared for by the ones whom you have sent. The arrangement of the work of the priests also needs to be recorded. We assign them one by one. How many are placed in this work and how many are placed in that work are all recorded at the same time.
The Responsible BrothersUsing the Records for Oversight
Not every brother and sister will keep good records. In the beginning there will be things that are overlooked, and there will be difficulties. You need to check the books to see who has been overlooked. As soon as you check, you will know by whom a certain person is being cared for or why he has not been cared for. Whether this job is done well or not depends on whether or not the worker has a good system. With good records you can follow people closely. The greatest use for records is in following up on people; it is not merely for recordkeeping. Records can keep you informed. If you need to check, you can find out. When someone is about to go to another city and wants to find out about the situation of a certain brother or some spiritual matters about him, they can give him an answer based on the records. In another aspect, a responsible brother can often find out from the record book whether certain brothers or sisters have done what they should have done. The responsible brothers in all the localities need to look up on their cards the names of these people frequently. This is their responsibility.
With all these cards, you can divide and assign certain ones to be responsible for a certain number of people. You have to map out districts to find out who is in this district and who is in another district. As responsible ones, the overseers need to oversee. Your job is to oversee. Often you need to observe and ask, “Brother, have you done this?” “Brother, have you taken care of that matter?” Everywhere you go, you should ask, “What is the situation with the five brothers you have just finished visiting?” “What is the situation with the ten brothers you have just finished visiting? Have you overlooked one and not visited him? During this past week, have you visited all of them?”

All the Brothers Serving Being the Way Today
The responsible brothers should not merely preach a message once from the podium and then consider the job over. It is your responsibility to motivate the brothers who are with you to work. This is what you need to accomplish; this is the way today. If you do not have this, you have no way. If it were the same as before, with only one message preached per week, then everyone would be a preacher resting six days and working one day. God worked six days and rested one day; today we rest for six days and work one day. No wonder all of the preachers have become lazy! Therefore, every one of you needs to labor every day, and you also have to cause all of the brothers to serve. Brothers, the question is not whether you have done the work, but whether you have done it and have a way to cause others to do it as well.
On the one hand, your job is to do the work yourself, and on the other hand, it is to lay hold of others to do the work and then follow up on them. After you go down the mountain, I will write letters to ask you how many people you oversee in a week. We cannot have an elder who does not oversee. Today if I hire ten laborers to work on the mountain and assign one brother to supervise, I do not expect the supervising brother to pick up a bamboo basket and carry it. I want him to supervise. He should not say, “Not one of the ten would carry it. Therefore, I carried it.” If the brother were to say this, he would not be worthy to be a supervisor. He would be useless. We have the ability before God to make sure that others carry the load. We have the ability before God to make them work. If you can cause six or ten brothers to serve, there is the church. Do not complain to us, saying, “Why should we stress this matter?” The reason is that if we do not work in this way, there will be no church. You may go out to preach to two or three people and may continue doing so. True, you have your own work, and I cannot disregard it. Yet you also need to lead other brothers and sisters to do the work. Never go astray from this way. If you do, you are wrong.
We need to bring every brother into this way. In matters pertaining to the gospel, let them preach the gospel and let them share in the care for the gospel. You need to take care of the new believers. You need to lead them to do the work and to take care of practical affairs. Do not turn matters over to them and consider the job done. You need to follow up on them until the work is finished. You need to continue watching over them to see how they are doing. You need to ask, “Do you have any problems? If you do, I am here to help you solve them.” In this way, you will see the church come forth.
For the church to come forth, there is the need for people to come forth. The day will come when you see the church serving and the entire church preaching the gospel. Then I would say that God’s way of recovery on the earth has begun and then He will have the church on the earth. Otherwise, Christianity has been taken captive to Babylon, and to this day it has not returned. Today there are still those who are passive. Today there are still some who are the mediatorial class—on one side is God and on the other side is man with a mediatorial class in the middle through which people must pass before they can serve. I do not know whether or not you have seen this. This is the whole problem.
The Service Office Being the Instrumentfor Carrying Out the Affairs
Therefore, the service office is the instrument with which the brothers take care of affairs. From it you can obtain information and find out about different situations. The deacons and deaconesses have things recorded there. Based on their records, you can see what is the situation of the church today. You can observe the brothers and sisters, oversee them, and tell them what they should do. Tell the lazy ones that they must labor. Tell the proud ones that they should learn humility. Step by step, bring them to be attentive to what they do. Brothers, have you seen what is called the work of God? It is not merely a matter of preaching from the podium. We recognize that we cannot do away with the ministry of the word; this ministry is very precious. But you also have to bring every one of the brothers and sisters to serve. When that time comes we will thank God that He has a way in China.
In the beginning you need to tell the deacons and deaconesses that when the brothers and sisters come to ask questions, they need to be courteous, polite, and not cold when replying. All of these matters are your responsibility. You need to go and carry it out and not let it go by carelessly. You need to be firm and at the same time meek, not letting things go by. You need to learn to serve in these matters; do not be afraid of troubles. You need to tell them, “He who transcribes must transcribe well; he who records must record accurately. If there is a little inaccuracy, you are responsible. Therefore, when the brothers need to retrieve what you have recorded, it will be easy. You should not handle it carelessly. This is God’s work.” When you handle things in this way, the lazy ones will have to resign. We do not work only six days and rest one day; we work every day, seven days a week. Many people are lazy because they put aside other things and use all of their time to study the Bible. Once you are careless, of course, you have nothing to do. If you mean business before God, you only need to invest an extra hour, and then the church will be built up one day earlier. If you invest an extra hour, pay attention to one more person, ask one more person—today you ask five brothers, and tomorrow you ask ten brothers, “Have you done your job?”, then, I tell you, the service of the church will be raised up one day earlier. On the one hand, we need a very good system and we need arrangements, and on the other hand, we need a record book to write everything down. Finally, you who are the responsible ones need to follow up on people. Although there is a business office and a system set up there, if you do not adequately follow up on people to do the work, it is useless. Never be slack; cause them to see that every one of us needs to serve. One day you will see that all of you have a habit of overseeing each other. Affairs should be taken care of properly; there should not be only one brother doing things there. Learn to go on together.
If you are clear about God’s purpose, you will bow your head before God and worship Him, saying, “Lord, have a way among us so that You can go on!” You can see that there is only one purpose for all the children of God, that is, to serve Him. Otherwise, there indeed is a problem. May God give us the grace.

Question: How do you motivate all the brothers to work?
Answer: I think that this way still has to begin with consecration. This is a new way, and we need to have good arrangements. First, we need to show the brothers that the service is the whole church serving, with every member of the Body having its function. Everyone should be a priest. You need to remind them of this one matter and do so emphatically. You also have to tell them about the matters of authority. I believe that we also need to pay attention to the matter of selling all. If a person does not sell all, his talk of service is false and will not work. There is the need for him to give all he has in order to serve God. Therefore, the basic thought is that everyone needs to offer all in order to serve God. Today God is calling those who belong to Him to come forth and serve Him. Otherwise, everything that we have seen this time will be dead. It will become merely a viewpoint and a method, and you will find it unworkable as a result. Therefore, it is not a matter of method but a matter of God opening up a way for us.
Nevertheless, when we go to speak this matter, we should speak in a strong way. We should not speak in a begging way, as if service is to patronize God and do Him a favor. If we are standing on that ground, we are altogether wrong. We need to let the brothers see that their service to God is a high and glorious thing. Today we should by no means live carelessly on the earth as before, but we must follow the Lord in all things. Therefore, we must be strong. Once we are strong, we will cause others to come forth. We need to tell them, “Today our occupation is something on the side. We must learn to serve God.” The way that we take must be straight, and our tone must be right. We should not bring ourselves down to a low level; do not beg people for God. We cannot beg people to believe in God, and even the more, we cannot beg people to serve God. To serve God requires that man come to God to be accepted. Man needs to believe in God by himself. Yet what is this that we beg people to believe in God? Today God wants us to serve Him. We have no choice but to come and serve. We need to be very clear about this before God. We must see accurately. If we see accurately, then others will see accurately. Everyone must serve God; otherwise, there will be no church. When the brothers and sisters fall prostrate before God, when they crawl to come and serve God, then we will see that what we have talked about is not a difficult matter.
Question: In a certain locality, not everyone has given up all. Some have given up all, and some still have not. What shall we do about taking care of the practical affairs?
Answer: We cannot use people who have not been gained by God. As many people as God has gained, we will use. We have to be cautious of the rest of the people. We must endeavor to bring them over to God’s side. We need to continue working until that happens.
The Need to Labor until Everyone Serves
Our way is to learn to build up. Everyone must have the goal of building up. Therefore, this time we would not relax our requirement for service. They need to put their whole being into it. This word must be spoken clearly. Today all the co-workers need to put everything into this work. We will ask some of the brothers also to put everything into this work. We need to tell them, “This is not something that only a few should do. We are putting everything into this work. You also need to put everything into this work, including your material possessions, your strength, and your life. All that you have needs to be put into this work.” Before God, the higher you can climb, the more God will bless you. The more you lower your tone, the fewer people will come. The more afraid you are, the fewer people will come, because God does not bless that attitude. Therefore, you have to put yourself in a right position.
If your position is wrong, people will not come. God will never bless that kind of attitude. It will be quite evident that even your own service is not healthy. Before God you must see that being a servant of God is not a favor to Him, but His favor to you; otherwise, how could you serve God? If someone invites you to participate in a worldly occupation, many would thank that one. Today when people are asked to come to serve God, should they expect God to thank them instead? When you go out to invite people, do you beg them? If so, your standing is wrong.
Please forgive me, there are a few things I have no patience for. If I hear a brother in a certain place say, “Today God loves you and you need to come and serve Him,” as if God will be very happy if this one will just come and serve Him, I have no patience for this at all. You need to tell them, “If you serve God, you should be very happy that a person like you can serve Him.” Service to God is an opening; you have to go after it. It is not that you are doing God a favor, that you are doing God an honor, and that even intelligent people like you should also come to serve God! Formerly, it was those who could not earn a living who came to be preachers, but now such ones as you should also come! It is an honor to the preaching profession to have a person such as you! I tell you, this attitude is entirely wrong. A Japanese Presbyterian preacher once said that all those who study theology are poor students. However, though he was not a poor student, he went to study theology also. As soon as I heard that, I realized there was no way at all with this man. There is no such thing as a good student doing God a favor by doing His work! When I hear this kind of word, it makes me angry before the Lord.
To Serve God Being Our Glory
We need to see that in our lifetime it is our glory if we can even crawl to God to serve Him. If you consider that God should use a person like you, then you are foolish, very foolish. If God can receive a person such as you, this is the greatest grace and the greatest glory. How strange it is that people would consider that serving God is doing Him a favor! Therefore, I hope that before God you will see that there is nothing more glorious than to serve God. It would even be a glorious thing if I could serve God by standing at the door as a beggar. It is a wonder that God wants us. God said, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy.” It is His mercy that He wants me to be His servant. Suppose that you are more intelligent than most people, your position is higher than that of most others, your family has a good financial situation, and you did very well in school, and you now become a preacher. In the eyes of most people this would be a very strange thing that you also would come to serve God! Let me tell you that this attitude is altogether wrong.
Therefore, brothers, when you go out this time, you should not exhort people to come and serve God, nor beg them to serve Him. If that happens, this work will be damaged by you; it will be finished. You must have this kind of attitude: If people think that to serve the president is glorious, they need to know what a great difference there is between the president and God. If I can serve God, this is my greatest glory. When man offers things to God, the consideration is not how painful it may be to give up those things; rather, the consideration is whether or not God will accept what you offer. How do you know God will accept it? You need to remember that this is not merely a matter of consecration, but also a matter of being sanctified. You need to show them that the big question is whether or not God will accept their offering. If God accepts it, this is their glory. It is not a matter of whether or not man will offer something; it is a matter of whether or not God will accept it. Therefore, your way before God needs to be straight, you need to keep your position, and you need to stand on God’s ground to speak. As soon as you lower your position, you have nothing to say and everything is finished. Forgive me for saying this, but I would even doubt your own service.
Man cannot be proud before God. If a person thinks that it is a waste for someone like him to come out to preach, you can ask him, “Within these ten years, has God used you to do anything? You are a person that God would never use!” What a great glory it is for man to serve Him! We ask God to grant us grace that in the matter of church affairs, we could do well and walk a straight path.


If the locality of a church is large and also has many saints, district meetings become a necessary arrangement. We do not believe as the Congregationalists do that each congregation is a unit, for that is not the teaching of the Bible. The teaching of the Bible does not allow for taking a congregation as the unit, but a locality as the unit. For example, Corinth was a locality, and Rome was a locality. Therefore, if the number of brothers and sisters in a locality is quite large, as in the case of Jerusalem, which had tens of thousands of believers, you will realize that it is impossible to meet in one place. Moreover, there were already three thousand or five thousand saved in the first few days in Jerusalem; perhaps they were unable to meet in one place within the first few days. Therefore, we see clearly that there must be some kind of arrangement for the meetings.
We are not taking the following section of the Bible as the basis; we are only taking this section of the Bible as our guide; it leads us and guides us. Remember the occasions when the Lord Jesus fed the five thousand and the four thousand. The Lord could not distribute the bread to the people because of the large number. Spontaneously, the Lord made an arrangement either with fifty in a group or with one hundred in a group. Today we accept the principle of this arrangement of the Lord. When the number of saints is quite large in a certain place, we can learn from the way of the Lord to divide people into groups of fifty or one hundred.
I already mentioned some days ago that the Lord did not always divide the people entirely into groups of fifty or one hundred. The Lord divided some of them into groups of fifty and some into groups of one hundred, meaning that these two numbers were convenient numbers. Therefore, when the number of people in the church becomes large, we need to divide them into groups. This does not mean that we must form a separate meeting when we reach a certain fixed, legal number. Rather, we say that based on convenience, geography, and the size of the congregation, there can be a meeting of about fifty people or perhaps a meeting of about one hundred. The number one hundred is twice as much as fifty; therefore, the Lord was only giving us a convenient number.
Based upon this principle, I think that the responsible brothers in all the localities should learn to make arrangements to have the people divided into districts whenever their number becomes large. The number could be fifty, one hundred, or a little more than one hundred. In any case we should begin to have district meetings when those meetings reach these two numbers. This kind of meeting is most convenient because it is easy to take care of the saints and visit them when the number is small. There is also more opportunity for the saints to function in the meeting when the number is small. Numbers between fifty and one hundred are very good for meeting. They are very convenient in every way.
Meeting Separately in Districts
The gospel preaching meeting as well as the prayer meeting and the new believers’ meeting may be carried out in the different districts. If we want to do so, even the edification meeting can be carried out by separate districts. If we wish to combine some meetings together, I think that the edification meeting would be a good one to combine and perhaps the gospel preaching meeting as well. If there are brothers who are workers in this region and if they want to have some message meetings for the brothers and sisters, it is obvious that combining them is more convenient. All the other meetings may be held separately—the prayer meeting, the bread-breaking meeting, and the new believers’ meeting. All these may be held in the districts.
Caring for the Saints by Districts
In this way we can care for the saints by districts. If there are meetings by districts in a locality, the responsible brothers should learn to make arrangements so that there will be someone bearing responsibility in every district. The responsible ones in every district should listen to the overseers. The responsible ones need to learn to bear responsibility and to take care of the whole spiritual situation in every district. They should concern themselves with all the work and take care of it. These are their responsibilities.
Having Balanced Growth
If the number of people in any church has increased, the area has been well divided into districts, and there has been adequate caring in each district, then you will see that all the saints will be involved in the meetings. This is because many people will be able to have balanced growth, and they will all be able to pray and fellowship before God. As long as the number is small, there is no need to divide into districts. When the number is large, there is such a need.

The Bible does not show us how Jerusalem was divided into districts. When we read the book of Acts, we know that there were districts, although they did not use our terminology. The prayer meetings were in individual homes. When Peter was put into prison, as you recall from the story of Rhoda, the house of Mark was a place of prayer. Let me repeat that the Bible does not give us all the particular detailed items of the affairs of the church, because God is not pleased when everything is structured. However, in the Bible there are some clues concerning the arrangement of all the affairs. These clues are placed in the Bible. This causes the church in every generation to learn to seek God and to make arrangements according to the Lord even though the church encounters the same situations again and again.
According to the actual situation, it would have been impossible for all the brothers and sisters in Jerusalem to meet together to break bread. It would have been impossible in practice. If there had been only one cup, how large should that cup have been? If there had been only one bread, how would you have distributed that bread? How much time would you have needed to spend to pass the bread to several thousand people? Later, the number became tens of thousands. Passing the bread to so many people would be impossible. Even if they took all seven days of the week to meet, it would nevertheless be very hard to distribute the bread and pass the cup in a good way. Therefore, we can see very clearly that they met by districts in those days. The house of Mark was a house among many houses.
Keeping This Principle
Therefore, I hope that we would always keep this principle before God. On the one hand, we acknowledge that the Bible mentions arrangements concerning these matters. On the other hand, we also acknowledge that the Bible does not give us a regulation concerning the arrangement of these matters. In the Bible, God always maintains a principle rather than giving us detailed regulations concerning how outward things should be done.
For example, these days we write letters of recommendation or letters of introduction. In the Bible we see only the letter of recommendation, but the Bible never tells us how this letter should be written. Paul said that he did not need letters of commendation. “Are we beginning again to commend ourselves? Or do we need, as some do, letters of commendation to you or from you?” (2 Cor. 3:1). This tells us that there was a recommendation letter, but we are not told how it was written. Therefore, we are learning year by year to have letters of recommendation and how to write them in a good way. Paul did not leave us a form or a handbook of form letters so that we would only need to fill in the blanks. We should be learning all the time how to write such letters.
When God does things in the church, He always gives just a principle. He only shows you that He is doing something; He never reckons that the Holy Spirit is apart from the church. From God’s view the Holy Spirit is in the church to represent Christ; the Holy Spirit dwells in the church. Therefore, as long as we have the principle concerning a certain matter and are willing to submit ourselves to the Head of the church, the Holy Spirit can teach us how to carry it out.
I hope that you can see this matter, especially the matter of dividing into districts. Even though we have no details or regulations of the Bible to tell us how to do it, we know that in practice it is impossible not to have meetings by separate districts. Moreover, in the book of Acts we see the principle of meeting by districts. The saints met from house to house. The house of Mark was one of those houses. Acts 2:46 says, “From house to house.” This verse shows us the principle of the districts. Today we ask God to teach us how to carry out these things based on the principle in the Bible.
I wish you would remember this principle—the Bible does not keep anything from us regarding spiritual things. It speaks in a very detailed way. However, concerning the aspect of practical affairs, concerning the Levitical service (in matters of serving God, there is service in the nature of the Levites), the Bible gives us only clues, not regulations. It shows us that there are such matters, but it does not show us how these matters are carried out. Today when you are going to carry them out, you will find that the Holy Spirit has not left you, that the Holy Spirit is still in the church, and that Christ is still the Head of the church through the Holy Spirit. In order to know this matter, you can wait and pray. Then you will be able to gain the light. I hope that the brothers will see the matter of meeting by districts and practice according to this principle.

THE WORKPrint This Page.

Another thing we have to consider is what we should do with the local church at the regional center of the work. There are two types of local churches: the general local church and the local church at the regional center of the work. Actually there is not much difference between the two. There is only a small difference related to the place of apostles in that local church.
In a place like Philippi, for example, you can see that there were elders, deacons, and brothers and sisters in the church. Philippians 1:1 says very clearly, “To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the overseers and deacons.” In other words, this letter was written to all the believers, the overseers, and the deacons in the church. This is the arrangement within a general local church: There are overseers, deacons, and brothers and sisters.
It is somewhat different if you are in a local church at the center of the work because there is an extra group, the apostles. In every locality the overseers always administrate the local churches. In the locality where the regional center of the work is, there are the apostles.
The Apostles Also Being Elders
The apostles administrate the work in a certain region. The apostles are for the work, but at the same time they also administrate the local church there. Therefore, when the apostles are in the locality which is a regional center of the work, they are there as apostles on the one hand and as overseers, elders, on the other hand. The apostles care for the work in a certain region or area. Perhaps the word region is too formal. As long as you know what it means, that is good enough; we are not fighting over words. The apostles administrate the work in a certain area, and they also administrate the affairs of the local church at the center of the work.
However, the apostles should not directly administrate a local church in their status as apostles. Therefore, the apostles at the same time become the elders.
The Bible shows us that when the church held a conference to discuss how to handle matters in the church (which only happened once in the Bible), they sent out letters saying, “The apostles and the elder brothers...” in Jerusalem (Acts 15:23).
Here I want to point out to you that Peter was an apostle, even a leader among the apostles. However, Peter was also an elder in Jerusalem. First Peter 5:1 says, “The elders among you I exhort, who am a fellow elder.” Please remember that Peter was not only an apostle but also an elder. Second John 1 says, “The elder to...” Third John 1 says, “The elder to...” In 1 Peter 1:1 Peter tells us that he was an apostle. He wrote the Epistle as an apostle, but in 5:1 he shows us that he was also an elder. At the beginning of his second and third Epistles, John said that he was an elder. It is quite peculiar that, unlike Paul or Peter, John does not mention that he was an apostle. At the beginning of each Epistle, Paul shows us that he wrote the Epistle as an apostle, but John, in his second and third Epistles, says in a simple and straightforward way that it was an elder who wrote the Epistles. Therefore, you can see that the two greatest apostles in Jerusalem were also elders in Jerusalem. Peter and John, the two most renowned among the apostles in Jerusalem, were elders in Jerusalem. With the exception of James, there is no record that any of the other apostles in Jerusalem were elders. In the book of Acts, Peter, John, and James are three noted apostles. The Epistles tell us that two of them were elders.
During the conference of the church, James was the one who made the final decision. According to the history of the church and the word of the Bible, we can see that he was an elder in Jerusalem at that time. Furthermore, according to the Bible, James was ahead of Peter, since it was James who decided on matters.
Therefore, in the church where there is a regional center of the work, you can let the local brothers, the dependable, elderly ones who have the spiritual weight, learn to oversee. At the same time, there are workers who are the elders of the local church on the one hand and the apostles in that region on the other hand.

The Apostles Not Dealing withMatters Directly Concerned with a Local Church
If you are elders, you cannot administrate affairs of other local churches. If you are elders in Jerusalem, you cannot administrate affairs in Samaria. In the Bible elders are always local. You cannot go beyond the sphere of your local church to go to another local church to administrate their affairs. If you are an apostle, you should not directly administrate the affairs of a local church. An apostle can deal with the local elders, but an apostle cannot deal directly with the affairs of a local church.
Let me give you an example. The work in Corinth was carried out by Paul. In Acts we see clearly that Paul went to Corinth and rendered them help. I want you to see that the relationship between Paul and Corinth was close and deep. Paul wrote two letters to the Corinthians. Not only did Paul go to Corinth himself; he even sent others to Corinth, such as Timothy and Titus. Paul did all these things, but there was no way for him to cast out the sinner in Corinth. Paul was an apostle, but he was not an elder in Corinth. Paul could not post an announcement saying that since this one had committed sin, he would remove him. Paul had to say to the church in Corinth, “Remove the evil man from among yourselves” (1 Cor. 5:13). Paul had no way to remove this man for them. Why was this? Paul was an apostle, not an elder. In the Bible Paul did not tell us that he was an elder in a certain locality. Rather, Paul was an apostle to the Gentiles. He could not administrate a local church. The apostle could not directly handle the administration of a local church. The elders can administrate the church in their own locality but not those in other localities. The apostles can administrate the work of the region, but they cannot directly handle the local administration. The affairs of Corinth had to be handled by the Corinthians, not by Paul.
As an apostle, how did Paul deal with the situation in Corinth? He said, “In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you and my spirit have been assembled, with the power of our Lord Jesus, to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord” (vv. 4-5). When you work, you can only use spiritual authority to deliver such a one to Satan, but you have no way to remove him. If the Corinthians would not remove him, Paul had no way to do it. I am not sure if you have seen this. This is the arrangement regarding the church in the Bible.
Peter Having to Bear Two Responsibilities
In Jerusalem, a local church at the center of the work, Peter had to bear two responsibilities. He had to be in Jerusalem taking care of the work in that area, and at the same time, he was also an elder in Jerusalem. If he had not been an elder in Jerusalem, then he would have had no way to directly administrate the affairs of Jerusalem. Peter and John were elders in Jerusalem, and James was also an elder in Jerusalem. I do not have the complete assurance to say that all the apostles who lived in Jerusalem were always elders in Jerusalem. Probably, those whose names were mentioned were all elders in Jerusalem. Peter had to administrate the affairs in Samaria; therefore, Peter was also an apostle. He took care of the work in that area based on his status as an apostle and administrated the church in Jerusalem based on his status as an elder. This matter is very clear in the Bible. Therefore, the many co-workers in the local church at a center of the work today need to be responsible for the work on the one hand, and they may need to be elders on the other hand. You are elders, and at the same time, you may also be apostles, administrating the work in other places. I hope you can see the relationship between these two responsibilities.
One day when Antioch had a problem, they sent some to Jerusalem to inquire about this. When all the brothers in Jerusalem decided to send a letter, they could say to the saints that the apostles and the elders in Jerusalem had made such a decision. As far as the apostles were concerned, this was a regional matter. As far as the elders in Jerusalem were concerned, this was a matter of the local church. The decision was made with apostles and elders. The apostles and elders decided this matter together.
I do not know if you have seen this. I feel this is a beautiful thing. You need to know that in the aspect of the spiritual work of the church, there is not much room left for your imagination, nor much for you to add. God has put this in front of us in a very detailed way: It is the apostles who administrate the work, and it is the elders who administrate the local church. Peter bore both responsibilities at the same time.
Some Apostles Not Being Elders
I still need to point out that there were apostles, such as Paul and Barnabas, who were not elders. According to our understanding, after careful study we cannot find any place in the Bible that tells us that Paul was also an elder. In the church in Antioch, Paul and Barnabas had a part only in the ministry of the word, not in the church affairs. They had a part in the ministry, but they were neither deacons nor elders; they did not hold these offices. They were prophets in Antioch. Therefore, Paul and Barnabas, the two apostles in Antioch, were in the ministry; they did not hold any office in the church.

The beginning in Antioch was initiated by the Holy Spirit. Please take note that the beginning in Jerusalem was initiated by the Holy Spirit and that the beginning in Antioch was also initiated by the Holy Spirit. It was not that Antioch thought up a method for going out to work but rather that the Holy Spirit initiated another beginning there.
Antioch Being the Mortal Wound for Catholicism
Please take note that the beginning at Antioch was very crucial. If you know God, you must bow your head and worship Him every time you read Acts 13 and 14 because here is a very important matter. I will always sincerely thank God for Acts 13. Acts 13 is the mortal wound for Roman Catholicism. Without Acts 13 we would have to return to Rome whether or not Rome is right. Jerusalem became a center because the Holy Spirit initiated a beginning there. If the Holy Spirit had not initiated a beginning at Antioch, we would have to say that God had only one center on the earth.
Brothers, you must see the great significance of this matter. If you do not have the work on your heart, you will not feel that Acts 13 regarding Antioch is a great matter. But if you have the work on your heart, you will see that this was a very great step. This was a strategic step by the Holy Spirit. This was very crucial. Until the end of chapter twelve, all that can be seen is the work out of Jerusalem. Even the work at Antioch was out of Jerusalem. From chapter eleven we can see that the work in Antioch was done by brothers who came out from Jerusalem. Because of this we might spontaneously recognize that God’s work on the earth had Jerusalem as its one center. This center might have moved somewhere else, but there would still be only one center. You would have had to admit that Christianity has a “capital.” Just as Roman Catholicism claims that the capital of Christianity is Rome, Jerusalem would have become the capital of Christianity, in the same way that Mecca has become the capital of Islam, and Chufu has become the capital of Confucianism. But thank God, the Holy Spirit initiated another beginning at Antioch. The Holy Spirit sent out another group of apostles from Antioch.
Paul and Barnabas Becoming Apostles
How could Paul be so bold as to bear the name of apostle? Barnabas was a good brother, a common brother in Jerusalem; he was not an apostle. Originally, Paul was also not an apostle. At Antioch the Holy Spirit designated both of them, set them apart, led the church to lay hands on them, and sent them out. After being sent out for a few days, they were both called apostles in Luke’s record. Acts 14:4 says, “But the multitude of the city was divided, and some were with the Jews and some with the apostles.” Here the word “apostles” is plural. The Holy Spirit did not say, “I ordain you, I establish you, to be apostles.” It was simply recorded that they were apostles.
Verse 5 says, “A hostile attempt was made by both the Gentiles and Jews with their rulers to treat the apostles outrageously and to stone them.” The pronoun here in the original Greek is plural, referring to the apostles. The people wanted to treat the apostles outrageously and to stone them. Verse 6 says, “They became aware of it and fled to the cities of Lycaonia, Lystra and Derbe, and the surrounding region.”
This beginning was initiated by God through His Spirit, not by Paul or Barnabas. If it had been a beginning initiated by Paul or Barnabas, we could deny it. But it was the Holy Spirit who initiated another beginning at Antioch, established another group of apostles, and sent two out to work. Therefore, it is clear that on the earth there was not only one but two regions of work. Hence, the thought that the earth has only one center of work is shattered. Christianity does not have a capital. Thank God! Where the Holy Spirit works, there the “capital” of Christianity is. No one can restrict the work of the Holy Spirit. The Lord is still the Head of the church; the Holy Spirit is still the Lord’s representative. We are not here to be the representatives of the Holy Spirit. He often uses us, but there are also many times that He works without us. If Jerusalem wanted to be dictatorial about the Lord’s work, it would not be able to. If Jerusalem wanted to monopolize the work of Christianity, it would not be able to. We have seen that God already established Jerusalem as a center, but God can also set up Antioch as a center. Therefore, God can set up Shanghai as a center, and God can also set up Foochow as a center. Here we can see that there is not one center only. If there were only one center, then the principle of Rome would be correct.
The Possibility of a Third Region Being Set Up
Brothers and sisters, this is most crucial. Acts 13 is the foundation of Christianity. Without Acts 13 we cannot say how many problems would have occurred. Without Acts 13 the concept of the pope would be entirely correct. The concept of Rome, the concept that there is a capital of Christianity, would be completely correct. But now we know that before God there was not only one center but two centers, not only one region but two regions. Therefore, when it pleases the Holy Spirit, He can establish a third region, a tenth region, a hundredth region, a thousandth region, or a ten-thousandth region on the earth. This is according to the intention of the Holy Spirit regarding His work on the earth; it is not according to man’s intention.

Apostles Who Are Not EldersBeing Able to Continually Go Out
As I have said, it is interesting that these two apostles sent out from Antioch were not elders at Antioch. Therefore, if they wanted to work, they had to become travelers, continually going out from place to place. They also returned to Antioch, but they did not return very quickly. When Paul stayed in Ephesus, he stayed for three years. If they had been elders in Jerusalem when they went to Ephesus, they could have stayed for three weeks at the most before returning; they could have gone out from Jerusalem, but they would have had to return soon after. Because they were apostles, they could go out. But if they had been elders, they would have had to return.
Paul and Barnabas were apostles. Therefore, they went out. It could be a long time before their return because they were not elders at Antioch. This is very clear.
Peter and John were both apostles and elders in Jerusalem. For this reason, whenever they went out, they had to return quickly because the responsibility of Jerusalem was upon them. They had to go out because they were apostles. They could not help but return because they were elders. This is very significant. Let me tell you, this is a beautiful thing. Because they were apostles, they continually went out. Because they were elders, they continually returned. They could not go too far because they had to bear the local burden in Jerusalem.
Paul and Barnabas were only apostles, not elders. Therefore, they could go out for a period of years without any problem. Wherever the Holy Spirit led them, they could go because they were only apostles and not elders.
Why do we need to spend so much time to talk about this one matter? It is because this has much to do with our work. We must receive this principle. If we begin to bear responsibility in a region and establish local churches there, we need to learn to be apostles, on the one hand, and elders, on the other hand. This is because we need to have a strong meeting in this region. Many Bible expositors have often told us that Antioch was the strongest church at that time. Furthermore, many have told us that the church in Antioch was a model church. I remember that when I was young, there was a book called The Model Church, which spoke about Antioch.
If someone does not bear the responsibility in a local church, he must be an apostle exclusively, continually going out freely, and then returning. It does not matter if he takes a long time. However, some need to return soon after they go out, as Peter did when he went to Samaria and Caesarea. After a short time, he had to return because he was also an elder.
From now on, when brothers among us go out, you must remember that those who are apostles can go, but those who are elders need to return. I feel this way is very pure. It is definite with no difficulties.
The local church in this locality is still the same as the local churches elsewhere. If there is a difference, the difference is that there are apostles living in the regional center. Perhaps at the same time these apostles are also elders. Once you have clearly seen this point, you can realize that there may be a slight difference between the general local church and the local church at the center of the work in the matter of the message meeting. Because the apostles are there, they may be willing to give a special supply, special messages, or special ministry of the word. There can be such a thing because the apostles are there. This is something that a general local church does not have. This is the difference between a local church at the center of the work and a general local church.
I think we must recognize that when the co-workers met at Hankow, the light regarding Jerusalem was still not sufficient. Of course, there are still many other things that we have not seen. But today at least we can say that we see the light concerning Jerusalem which we did not see in Hankow. We can now add to it. We see that the church is local and that the work is regional. God chooses a locality to be the center of the work. The church in that locality is slightly different from the churches elsewhere because there are apostles who are also elders in that locality.
This is what we wanted to bring up concerning the arrangement of a local church at the center of the work.


What is the relationship between the local church and the work? What is the relationship between the local church and the apostles? We want to pay special attention to these matters. Local churches such as those in Jerusalem and Antioch are special and exceptional because, on the one hand, they are local churches, and on the other hand, they are centers for the work. As local churches they are the same as other churches. As to the work they are also centers for the work. Therefore, we have to recognize that Jerusalem and Antioch are somewhat different from other local churches. However, regarding other local churches, what is their relationship with the work?
In The Normal Christian Church Life we made quite an effort to show the brothers and sisters that the local church is the highest authority on earth. The Lord has not established a federated church, a mother church, or a head church above the local church. There is no such concept in the Bible as a mother church or a head church. In the Bible only a local church is recognized as a unit. In addition, the local church is recognized in the Bible as the unique unit. There is no authority above her.
In a local church the highest authority is the elders. All the matters are handled by the elders. The apostles cannot directly interfere with a local church; they cannot deal with the affairs of a local church. For example, there was a person in Corinth who needed to be removed, and yet Paul could not remove him. This is a very crucial example. Do you see from this the relationship between the local church and the work, as well as the relationship between the local church and the apostles? In other words, what the apostles want to do must go through the elders; the things which the apostles want to do cannot be done directly. God has not asked a local church to receive the commands of the apostles directly. God only asks the brothers and sisters in a local church to receive the commands of the elders. If the spiritual condition of an elder is right, he should receive the commands of the apostles. On the spiritual side the elders should listen to the apostles.
The Elders Being Appointed by the Apostles
We need to pay special attention to the point that the apostles appoint the elders. The elders in all the localities are appointed by the apostles. Timothy and Titus were apostles; they were sent by Paul. These two, one in Ephesus and one in Crete, traveled in the surrounding areas and appointed elders in various localities. Therefore, the authority of the elders is not received from the church. You must make the churches in the various localities see that not one local overseer is elected locally. My father is my father not because I voted for him, but because I was born of him. The Lord said, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you.” The elders are not chosen by the brothers in the church but are appointed by the apostles. A local church should not select elders; it has neither the authority nor the knowledge to do so. The local brothers are absolutely not allowed to select some to oversee them. There is no such thing! What God has shown us is that it was Paul, Timothy, and Titus who appointed elders. The elders are appointed by the workers from without.
The Church Listening to the Elders andthe Elders Learning to Listen to the Apostles
Once a local church has had elders appointed, it should listen to the elders, not to Timothy and Titus. The elders are the overseers of the church. The highest authority in a local church is the elders; however, the authority of the elders is received from the apostles. The apostles give the authority to the elders, and the elders administrate the local church directly. Therefore, everyone who is an elder, an overseer, must learn to listen to the apostles. Because their being elders is due to the apostles, they cannot overthrow the authority of the apostles. It is all right for the church not to receive the commands of the apostles directly, but it is not all right for the church not to receive the commands of the elders directly. However, the elders need to learn to listen to the apostles. This is what God has arranged with respect to the local church.
The ApostlesBeing the Ones to Remove the Elders
After the meeting in Hangkow, some brothers misunderstood. They thought that though the elders are appointed by the apostles, they did not have to listen to the apostles. This is impossible. When there were brothers who did not respect the elders and problems occurred, the letter of accusation by two or three was sent to Timothy. In other words, the authority for the appointment of the elders is with the apostles, and the authority for the removal of the elders is also with the apostles. A local church cannot expel an elder; rather, the apostles need to bear the responsibility of removing elders. This is the reason why the letter of accusation by two or three was sent to Timothy.
Why is there the need of two or three people? Because this is not a matter of personal opinion. Some people speak loosely, and this is not allowed. There is the need of a letter of accusation by two or three in order to oppose a brother. This makes it a sufficiently troublesome matter. At least two or three accusers are needed to accuse an elder. Why is a letter of accusation used instead of spoken words? Spoken words can easily become rumors; but since a letter of accusation is written down, it can become a formal accusation. Therefore, there must be a letter. In this way, one cannot speak loosely. Anyone who does things loosely must bear the responsibility for it.

Here you can see that the apostles appoint the elders, and the apostles also remove the elders. However, the direct administration of a local church is not in the hands of the apostles; it is in the hands of the elders. The apostles bear particular responsibility for expanding the work, not for administrating business affairs. The administration and care of a local church are the responsibility of the elders, not the apostles. The apostles take care of carrying out the work of the church as a whole. The Bible makes a clear distinction between the workers, the local churches, and the elders concerning their limit of authority, the arrangement of their work, and their coordination. Therefore, we are here to try to find out the way to go on properly.
A brother once asked how a matter should be decided in the work or in the church after it has been discussed. I think that every worker or every elder in a locality has the common feeling that a message meeting is rather easy but a business meeting is difficult. There is no problem when it comes to spiritual matters. The greatest problem is with the business meeting, because in that kind of meeting, it is very easy for everyone to have his own view; everyone’s opinion is different. Many of the problems lie especially with the matter of decision making.
Today I want to show you, as I have spoken in these past few months, that Acts 15 is the only place in the entire Bible which records a meeting in which the church discussed business affairs. While there have been many councils in the Catholic Church, there was only one such conference in Jerusalem. The entire church has had only one such conference. God specifically placed this unique conference in the Bible to be a pattern. Hence, you should never make the mistake of considering that chapter fifteen of Acts is not so good. Rather, you need to realize that chapter fifteen is the most precious chapter in the whole book of Acts. Without Acts 15, we simply would not know what to do when we tried to handle business affairs. It is very good that Acts 15 has been set before the church. The pattern given to us by this unique instance is the pattern accepted by the church for the past two thousand years. We acknowledge that this is the highest pattern.
Some Problems
In Acts 15 a problem arose. Many foolish brothers think that being free from problems is a sign that a church is spiritual. But please keep in mind that the sign of a church being spiritual is not that it is free from problems. Instead, the sign of a church being spiritual depends upon whether it has ways to solve problems and whether those ways are appropriate. If the church is spiritual, many things will happen to it. Once a church becomes spiritual, many problems will have to be considered. If a church is not spiritual, any way and any thing is all right. If a church is not spiritual, it is peaceful and without problems. The more one lies under the hand of the “strong man,” the more peaceful his situation is. The more spiritual you are, the more problems you have to solve.
Jerusalem had a problem. Where did that problem come from? Many people who formerly were zealously serving Judaism went to different places. Some went to Antioch and told people that the believers in the church should also be circumcised according to the regulations of Moses. Under these circumstances both Paul and Barnabas had to go to Jerusalem, and other brothers in the church in Antioch also went up with them.
Brothers Being Allowed to Speakin the Conference of the Apostles and Elders
I want you to pay special attention to the fact that when they went up to Jerusalem, they went up to see the apostles and elders. Acts 15:2 speaks of going up to “the apostles and elders in Jerusalem.” Verse 4 says, “And when they arrived in Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders.” The church, the apostles, and the elders, all three, received them.
Some of the believers were former Pharisees. Their background was Pharisaic. They stood up to say, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to charge them to keep the law of Moses” (v. 5). I want the brothers and sisters to see how matters were discussed in the conference recorded in the Bible. The conference in Jerusalem was a conference of the apostles and elders; it was not a conference of the church. The responsibility was on the apostles and the elders. Of course, such a thing was no problem to the apostles and elders. But a few believers, who formerly were Pharisees, rose up and said that they wanted the Gentiles to be circumcised and to keep the law. I want the brothers to pay attention to this matter that it was the apostles and the elders who played the primary role in discussing matters in the church and that it was also the apostles and elders who later made the decision in these matters. But when the apostles and the elders made decisions, they had to listen to the opposing brothers. The apostles and elders could have very easily made a decision on this matter. They had no problems; they were very clear before God. But a few believers, formerly Pharisees, felt that believers should still be circumcised and keep the law. What did the church in Jerusalem do? The apostles and elders of Jerusalem met and also allowed these brothers to come and present their arguments. You should give those who oppose and who have different opinions the opportunity to speak by telling them, “Speak as much as you wish.” Never consider that this is not spiritual. God desires that the responsible brothers, the brothers with authority, would be those who can listen to others. The responsible brothers, the brothers with authority, should have the ability to sit and listen to all the opposing words. If a brother cannot listen to the speaking of others, to the arguments of the opposers, then he is not qualified to be a leader in the church.
Hence, you can see that “the apostles and the elders were gathered together to see about this matter” (v. 6). The former Pharisees still advocated the practice of circumcision and the keeping of the law. The phrase “when much discussion had taken place” implies that much effort was made, many words were spoken, various arguments were presented, and different views were made known. Many brothers agreed that the believers should be circumcised, and many brothers disagreed. The apostles and elders allowed the brothers who had opinions and the brothers who wanted to speak to present their views. Although this meeting belonged to the apostles and elders, they allowed the brothers to speak and allowed anyone who wanted to come to attend. Those who wanted to speak were given the opportunity to express their opinions. This is the principle by which things are settled in the Bible. Never annul a person’s speaking, and never refuse to listen to others. Even if their words are weak or irrelevant, you still need to let them speak and present their opinions. But they cannot make the decision. In this way, at least when the brothers whose spiritual condition is proper, that is, the responsible brothers, listen to those words, they will know how to make a decision. Many responsible brothers in the church lack this habit of listening to others. They may only listen to one person’s words or to a few men’s words, but they never listen to everyone’s words. The church is neither autocratic like Thyatira, the Roman Catholic Church, nor is it democratic like Laodicea. The church is in the principle of Jerusalem. The principle of Jerusalem is all the brothers speaking, with the responsible brothers making the decision.

The Decision Made by the Apostles and the Eldersand Endorsed by the Holy Spirit and the Church
It is quite strange to see how the matter was decided. After the brothers and sisters had all spoken, the apostles and elders had to make the decision. The first one who stood up was Peter. Peter stood up to state his personal opinion, relating to them what he had personally experienced, saying, “Men, brothers, you know that from the early days God chose from among you that through my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, the Knower of hearts, bore witness to them, giving them the Holy Spirit even as also to us; and He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith. Therefore why are you now testing God by placing a yoke upon the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?” (vv. 7-10).
Later, they invited Barnabas to speak because Barnabas had gone out from Jerusalem. They asked him to relate the actual situation of the matter. Then Paul spoke.
You can see that here Peter spoke, Barnabas spoke, Paul spoke, and finally James stood up. Verse 13 is the best part: “And when they finished speaking, James answered, saying, Men, brothers, listen to me.” He was the brother who was foremost in the church in Jerusalem. The history of the church shows us that at that time he was acting somewhat like a chairman, although this may not be the right term for it. Among the many brothers in Jerusalem at that time, James was the one who stood in the forefront. Peter, Barnabas, and Paul had testified, and the three were one. These three brothers with spiritual weight shared the same feeling. Let us see what James said: “And when they finished speaking, James answered, saying, Men, brothers, listen to me. Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles....Therefore I judge [these were words of authority] that we do not harass those from the Gentiles who are turning to God, but that we write to them to abstain from the contaminations of idols and fornication and what is strangled and blood. For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who proclaim him in the synagogues, he being read every Sabbath. It then seemed good to the apostles and the elders with the whole church...” (vv. 13-14, 19-22). The matter was thus decided. This was the first, as well as the last, conference of the church recorded in the Bible.
I want to show you that this is how matters are decided in the church; it is not as the worldly people practice. The people of the world decide matters according to the opinion of the majority. The church does not decide matters in the way of Thyatira either, where one or two persons at the top make a decision and that decision is final. Rather, all the brothers have the opportunity not only to speak but even to discuss. First, everyone who wants to speak is allowed to speak. To do it this way does not mean that their words are taken but that the church waits on the mind of God. Perhaps a very simple brother speaks forth God’s mind. Therefore, everyone may speak and discuss, but do not let the discussion continue the whole time. After much discussion and after many words have been spoken, let the responsible brothers, those who have spiritual weight before God, the elders and the apostles, speak forth their opinions. At the end God expresses His mind through the ones with the highest authority. You can see that the responsible brothers all had the same opinion. After hearing so much, with the opinions of all the responsible brothers being the same, they made the decision. The other brothers then needed to learn to accept this opinion. Thus, it says, “It then seemed good to the apostles and the elders with the whole church” (v. 22). This is how the affairs are handled in the church.
The church does not take care of its affairs by casting ballots. The final decision in handling affairs in the church is left with those who have spiritual weight. All the arguments are to be listened to; all the arguments of the brothers need to be heard. This is the manner of handling church affairs. Therefore, we need to learn to let them speak, to listen to all their arguments. I wish that every worker could listen patiently. If several brothers have opinions, let them speak and discuss. Never consider this to be wrong; this is a proper way. But at the same time, ask God to give you proper judgment.
Eventually, the decision of the apostles was readily seen as God’s decision. Therefore, the words in verse 28 are very wonderful: “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us.” The anointing of the Holy Spirit was there. That decision was made by the Holy Spirit and “us.” A decision was made by the Holy Spirit and “us” to ask the apostles and the elders to write a letter.
Therefore, I hope you brothers can see that the way the church handles its affairs should neither be autocratic nor democratic. Neither autocracy nor democracy is allowed. There should be neither the opinion of only one person nor the casting of ballots. When the church handles affairs, the final decision rests with those who have spiritual authority. However, everyone should be given the opportunity to speak. While they are speaking, you are observing and sensing how their spirit is. At the end you stand up and say, “Brothers, concerning this matter, we few brothers have decided in this way.” In the church there is neither the majority listening to the minority nor the minority listening to the majority. In the church there are only the brothers and sisters expressing opinions and the spiritual men making the decisions. After a decision, the church carries it out in one accord. This way is different from worldly organizations and methods. I hope that all the brothers and sisters can see this.

The most crucial thing in studying the Bible is to touch the spirit of the Bible. The basic requirement in studying the Bible is that a person touch the spirit of the Bible. Try to touch the spirit of Acts 15. We have seen above that many brothers were there and that “much discussion” had taken place. Since the Bible says “much,” it must have been quite much. Perhaps those who formerly were Pharisees and who later became Christians spoke many foolish words. The first person’s spirit that I want you to touch is that of Peter.
Peter Not Being Affected by the Spirit of Debate
How did Peter speak when he stood up? He was not affected by those around him. As Peter stood to speak, he was like a newborn baby, free from any outside feeling and not at all affected by the spirit of debate. This should be the situation of the responsible brothers. If a responsible brother is affected inwardly, he is not qualified to bear the responsibility. Hence, the most important thing in reading the Bible is to touch the spirit of the Bible. When Peter stood up to speak at that time, he did not debate at all. Once you get involved with the debate, you are not qualified to be a leader, nor are you qualified to be one in authority. One in authority does not contend with people. Once you contend, you lose your position.
Peter stood up without any word of debate. This was wonderful! Peter stood up to say, “Men, brothers, you know that from the early days God chose from among you that through my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe” (v. 7). Peter was saying, “This was what I told you some days ago. This is not something I say today. I have said it before.” “And God, the Knower of hearts, bore witness to them, giving them the Holy Spirit even as also to us” (v. 8). Peter seemed to be saying, “I did not baptize them, nor did I lay hands on them. If I had baptized them, you would have said that this was something done by me. If I had laid my hands upon them, you would have said that it was I who gave them the Holy Spirit. I did not baptize them, nor did I lay hands upon them, nor did I pray for them; it was the Holy Spirit Himself who descended upon them. You cannot blame me for doing that.” He further continued by saying, “And He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith. Therefore why are you now testing God by placing a yoke upon the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus we are saved in the same way also as they are” (vv. 9-11). His speaking was very clear, simple, and without any debate or spirit of debate.
Brothers, the Bible has its spirit, and you must touch that spirit in order to grasp that book. Peter simply presented his points without being affected or losing his dignity. He was like a person in authority, simply speaking forth these things. I hope you would see that in a conference of the church, if you slip into arguments, you will become like the others and be disqualified from making decisions.
Barnabas and PaulBringing In the Presence of God
Barnabas then stood up to speak, and Paul also stood up to speak. We need to pay special attention to the fact that when these two brothers stood up to testify, they had to be very serious before God. We must again try to touch their spirit. These two brothers definitely did not stand up to speak clamorously or lightly; they spoke with weight. We must understand the situation at that time. When Barnabas and Paul stood up to speak, their aim was to stop the contention, not to generate it. Contention is stopped by means of God’s presence. In this kind of meeting, idle talk must be stopped. Idle talk is stopped not by our speaking but by bringing people before the Lord. If we are not this kind of person, such a conference will break down. It is useless to imitate. When Barnabas and Paul stood up to speak, everyone was silent. When these two brothers stood up to speak, they could bring others before God. The other brothers were their seniors, but due to these two brothers standing up to speak, everyone was brought before God, and God’s presence was brought into the meeting. The noise of debate stopped, and everyone listened quietly to what God had done through their hands.
Paul had stood many times before crowds and before the Gentiles. There is no way to bring God’s presence to such people that they may sense it, yet every servant of God is able to bring God’s presence into the church of God. When His presence is brought into the church of God, everyone is silent. I hope that the brothers would see this basic principle. Never think that you can use words to deal with words, opinions to deal with opinions, reasonings to deal with reasonings, and contentions to deal with contentions. If you take that position, you will fail immediately.
Peter, who started first, stood up to speak, and his spirit was not at all affected by the debate of the brothers. He showed the brothers from the beginning what his situation actually was before God. While he stood there, he spoke as one who knew God’s authority. As a result, he opened a way for Barnabas and Paul to speak. When these two spoke, they brought in God’s presence and everyone became silent. When God’s presence comes and the authority comes, all the opinions disappear. When God’s authority is absent and God’s presence is absent, any kind of conference in the church will not be carried out well. Man’s opinions are full of confusion. Each one expresses his own view. But when God’s authority comes in, everyone becomes silent.
Verse 12 says that they “became silent.” At that moment only Barnabas and Paul spoke.
James Bringing In the Feeling in God’s Presence
After all were silent—I particularly like the words here— “James answered” (v. 13). This was the final authority. He was generally recognized as the leading one among the brothers. He stood up and spoke in a simple way. You can see that the meeting was in his hands. “Men, brothers, listen to me. Simeon has related...” (vv. 13-14). After he repeated the words of Peter, he quoted a verse from the Scriptures. This is what God’s Word says. Verse 19 then says, “Therefore I judge.” He gave a judgment. His opinion was, “Do not harass those from the Gentiles who are turning to God.” This was not a word of debate or of contention; rather, he brought in God’s presence and God’s authority; he brought in God’s word and the consideration and the feeling before God. It was in this way that the conference of the church succeeded.
Not Merely Learning the Biblical Practice,but Possessing the Spirit of the Bible
The brothers and sisters need to learn the things in the Bible. Do not merely learn the method of the things; learn the spirit of the things also. If we only have the method without the spirit, the method is useless. We need to have the method and at the same time we need to imitate the spirit of the people in the Bible. There must be that spirit and that presence. If we live in that reality, we will be able to stop the speaking of the talkative ones in the meeting. If we are loose and casual, if God’s presence is not evident with us, if God’s authority upon us is not clear, if our attitudes, words, and actions are all casual, this kind of meeting will not have a good result. If the flesh cannot be restricted in us, neither can the flesh be restricted in the meeting. If we cannot bind our own flesh, neither can we bind the flesh of the brothers. If we do not allow God’s presence to be manifested in us, submitting ourselves under God’s authority, neither can we cause all the brothers to submit themselves under God’s authority. It is a matter of our spiritual condition. If our spiritual condition is proper, the result will be proper. If our spiritual condition is not proper, the result also will not be proper. We may want to take Acts 15 as a method, but there is not one thing in the Bible that can be used as a method. The words in the Bible are definitely not a formula. If we work according to a formula, even if it is useful, the result is still void of spirit. It is not a matter of method, but a matter of spirit; it is not a matter of a formula, but a matter of spirit. It is not that when you go out you know how to deal with the situations you encounter; rather, it is that you live before God and thus are able to bring the entire meeting before God. If you do not live before God, you cannot bring the entire meeting before God. You may know the correct order of the procedures: Peter spoke first, Barnabas spoke second, Paul spoke third, James made the final decision, and the responsible brothers wrote the letter; however, the Bible does not give any ground to those who are not spiritual. You cannot be a person who is not spiritual and yet merely learn the methods in the Bible. You need to learn to capture the spirit; then you can go forward with all the things falling into place spontaneously.
Sometime later, when we come to the topic of reading the Bible, we will mention again that in studying the Bible the basic requirement is that we must connect with the spirit. Only when we connect with the spirit are we able to understand God’s Word; otherwise, we cannot understand it.