A dictionary definition of a Christian would be something similar to “a person professing belief in Jesus as the Christ or in the religion based on the teachings of Jesus.” While this is a good starting point, like many dictionary definitions, it falls somewhat short of really communicating the biblical truth of what it means to be a Christian. The word “Christian” is used three times in the New Testament (Acts 11:26; 26:28; 1 Peter 4:16). Followers of Jesus Christ were first called “Christians” in Antioch (Acts 11:26) because their behavior, activity, and speech were like Christ. The word “Christian” literally means, “belonging to the party of Christ” or a “follower of Christ.”
Unfortunately over time, the word “Christian” has lost a great deal of its significance and is often used of someone who is religious or has high moral values but who may or may not be a true follower of Jesus Christ. Many people who do not believe and trust in Jesus Christ consider themselves Christians simply because they go to church or they live in a “Christian” nation. But going to church, serving those less fortunate than you, or being a good person does not make you a Christian. Going to church does not make you a Christian any more than going to a garage makes you an automobile. Being a member of a church, attending services regularly, and giving to the work of the church does not make you a Christian.
A Christian is not all about rituals, going to church, or doing certain things while refraining from other things. Becoming a Christian is all about having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. A personal relationship with Jesus Christ, through repentance and faith, is what makes a person a Christian.
The Bible teaches that the good works we do cannot make us acceptable to God. Titus 3:5 says, “He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” So, a Christian is someone who has been born again by God (John 3:3; John 3:7; 1 Peter 1:23) and has put faith and trust in Jesus Christ. Ephesians 2:8 tells us that it is “…by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.”
A true Christian is a person who has put faith and trust in the person and work of Jesus Christ, including His death on the cross as payment for sins and His resurrection on the third day. John 1:12 tells us, “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” The mark of a true Christian is love for others and obedience to God’s Word (1 John 2:4, 10). A true Christian is indeed a child of God, a part of God’s true family, and one who has been given new life in Jesus Christ.
What Is a Believer?
In the New Testament, the word believer is used for a person who is convinced that Jesus is the Messiah and the author of salvation. The Greek word usually translated “believer” or “believing” carries the idea of faithfulness and loyalty (John 20:27; Acts 16:1; 2 Corinthians 6:15). A believer is one who faithfully trusts in Jesus Christ.
A believer is one who has received the truth that Jesus Christ is the Son of God into their hearts and repented of their sins, resulting in a new creation (John 1:12; 2 Corinthians 5:17). A believer does more than hear Jesus’ words and accept what He said about God; a believer allows the information to change him (see John 2:23–24). Saving faith is more than mental acceptance of the facts regarding Christ; it involves repentance and unreserved commitment to Him. True believers are those who hear the Word of God, believe it in their hearts, and recognize the value of the message to the extent that they take up their crosses to follow Jesus (Luke 9:23; 14:26–33).
In the Bible, believers were also called disciples. A disciple is one who actively pursues becoming like the one he or she admires. The disciples of Jesus were so committed to becoming like Him that their detractors began calling them “little Christs,” or “Christians” (Acts 11:26). The unbelievers may have meant the term as an insult, but such a name is the highest compliment believers can receive. Our goal as believers is to be “little Christs” in our words, actions, and values (Romans 8:29).
Sadly, the term Christian has lost most of its meaning in our secular world. It has come to mean one’s religious preference, akin to Buddhist, Muslim, or atheist. Today, many people call themselves “Christians” or “believers,” but the label has more to do with culture or upbringing than true faith in Christ. Not so in the first century. Believers lived quite differently from their unbelieving peers. They may have come from any number of wicked pasts, but they had been redeemed and transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:9–11). There were no cultural benefits of being a believer. To believe in Jesus of Nazareth as the promised Messiah often meant persecution, rejection, and even death (Acts 8:1; 1 Thessalonians 3:7; 2 Corinthians 4:8–10).
Believers “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33). Such faith often comes at a high cost relationally, socially, financially, and even physically. Jesus warned prospective believers to “count the cost” of following Him (Luke 14:25–33). Paul warned that “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). Believers across the world are right now suffering for their faith, just as Paul and the other apostles did. Even in nations once free, believers are facing increasing hostility toward the exercise of their faith.
A believer has many promises of God to comfort and encourage him and motivate him to greater service. A believer has experienced the new birth: “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God” (1 John 5:1). A believer has a relationship with God that sets him free from his old life of guilt, shame, and sin (John 8:36; Romans 8:2). A believer experiences a love like no other and is empowered to love others (John 10:11; Romans 5:8; 1 John 4:11). A believer has access to God’s presence and fellowship with the Holy Spirit, who comforts, protects, leads, and guides (Ephesians 2:13, 18; Hebrews 4:16; John 14:16–18).
Jesus said, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:13–14). Believers are those who have found the narrow road that leads to life and remain steadfastly on it no matter who or what opposes them (John 8:31; 2 John 1:9).
How Do I Know If I’m A Christian?
Jesus taught that the condition of a person’s heart will manifest itself in his or her behavior: “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart” (Luke 6:43–45; cf. Matthew 7:16). So, when considering whether or not you are a Christian, you can consider the kind of fruit that is produced in the life of a Christian:
1. Complete trust in Christ’s death and resurrection as sufficient payment for the debt we owe God. A Christian is one who trusts Christ exclusively. Doubts come when we fear we must add something to the work of Christ to ensure our salvation. Ephesians 2:8–9 makes it clear that we are not saved by our works, but by God’s grace alone. No matter how righteous we may appear, none of us come close to earning salvation (Romans 3:23; 5:12; 6:23). We can neither add anything nor take anything away from the Savior’s sacrifice. When Jesus cried, “It is finished!” He meant that He had paid in full the sin debt of all who trust in Him (John 19:30). A Christian rests in the gracious promises of God in Christ.
2. Obedience. A Christian is one who obeys the Lord. In our rush to magnify the wonderful grace of God, we often treat obedience to God as optional. But 1 John 3:6–9 says that a person’s attitude toward sin is how we tell who belongs to God and who belongs to the devil. Salvation transforms our hearts (James 1:22). Romans 6 gives a thorough explanation of why we turn from sin when we are saved: we have died to it and are now alive in Christ. The attitude of a true follower of Jesus is one of sorrow over sin. Proverbs 8:13says, “To fear the Lord is to hate evil.” A Christian hates his own sin and has a strong desire to turn from it. A Christian loves the Lord and shows that love through obedience (John 14:21).
3. The witness of the Holy Spirit. A Christian is one who is led and encouraged by the Spirit. Romans 8:16 says, “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” When we surrender our lives to Jesus, His Holy Spirit comes to indwell us and changes the way we view the world, ourselves, and God. He brings an understanding of spiritual truths we could never before grasp (John 14:26). He helps us commune with the Father when we don’t know how to pray (Romans 8:26). He comforts us by bringing to mind the promises of God. He gives us a knowing that quiets our hearts when doubts arise. Romans 8:14 says that “as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the children of God.” A Christian has confidence of his or her adoption into God’s family because of the testimony of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:15).
4. The love of God’s people. A Christian is one who shows a sincere love for the family of God. First John 3:14 says, “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death.” Although we should love and befriend everyone, Christians naturally gravitate toward other Christians. Second Corinthians 6:14–18 explains why. God’s instructions are for us to grow in love by serving our brothers and sisters and helping them bear their loads (Galatians 5:13–14; Ephesians 5:21; 1 Peter 1:22). A Christian is known for his love for other Christians (John 13:35).
5. Ongoing discipleship. A Christian is one who continues to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). Jesus did not call us to be fans, but followers. He calls us to deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow Him (Luke 9:23). All Christians go through seasons of greater and lesser growth, but there is always an upward move toward God. It may at times be two steps forward and one step back, but there will be progress. If we continue in the same worldly mindset we had before conversion, chances are that we were never really converted at all. A disciple is one who looks to Christ for instructions. A disciple yearns to be more like Jesus and rids his or her life of distractions, temptations, and obstacles to that goal. When God adopts us as His children, He desires that we take on a family resemblance (Romans 8:29). A Christian will look more and more like the Savior.
It is good to “examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves” (2 Corinthians 13:5). If you question whether or not you are a Christian, then self-examination is in order. Doubts about our salvation can be troubling, but false assurances are worse. Thankfully, we have Scripture as our guide. There are specific things we can look for when determining the validity of our profession of faith: trust in Christ, obedience to His Word, the presence of the Holy Spirit, love for God’s people, and continued spiritual growth. We don’t need to live in doubt. When Jesus is Lord of our lives and we live to please and honor Him, we can know beyond a doubt that we are Christians (Matthew 6:33; Luke 6:46; John 14:15).
How To Become a Christian
Jesus Christ declared that He “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). The question then arises – why did we need to be ransomed? The idea of a ransom is a payment that must be made in exchange for the release of a person. The idea of a ransom is most frequently used in instances of kidnapping, when someone is kidnapped and held prisoner until a ransom is paid for the person’s release.
Jesus paid our ransom to free us from bondage! Bondage from what? Bondage to sin and its consequences, physical death followed by eternal separation from God. Why did Jesus need to pay this ransom? Because we are all infected with sin (Romans 3:23), and are therefore worthy of judgment from God (Romans 6:23). How did Jesus pay our ransom? By dying on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins (1 Corinthians 15:3; 2 Corinthians 5:21). How could Jesus’ death sufficiently pay for all of our sins? Jesus was God in human form, God come to earth to become one of us so He could identify with us and die for our sins (John 1:1,14). As God, Jesus’ death was infinite in value, sufficient to pay for the sins of the entire world (1 John 2:2). Jesus’ resurrection after His death demonstrated that His death was the sufficient sacrifice, that He had truly conquered sin and death.
This is the best part. Because of His love for us, God has made it exceedingly simple to become a Christian. All you have to do is repent and turn from your sinful ways, and receive Jesus as your Savior, fully accepting His death as the sufficient sacrifice for your sins (John 3:16), fully trusting Him alone as your Savior (John 14:6; Acts 4:12). As mentioned, becoming a Christian is not all about rituals, going to church, or doing certain things while refraining from other things. Becoming a Christian is all about having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. A personal relationship with Jesus Christ, through faith, is what makes a person a Christian.
Are you ready to become a Christian?
If you are ready to become a true Christian by receiving Jesus Christ as your Savior, all you have to do is believe. Do you understand and believe that you have sinned and are worthy of judgment from God? Do you understand and believe that Jesus took your punishment upon Himself, dying in your place? Do you understand and believe that His death was the sufficient sacrifice to pay for your sins? If your answers to these three questions are yes, then repent of your sins and place your trust in Jesus as your Savior. Receive Him, by faith, fully trusting in Him alone and making Him Lord of your life. That is all it takes to become a Christian!
**More on how to become a Christian? To be born-again or saved? HERE
Where are the prophets who stand before God, and preach with the fire of the Holy Spirit today, who can preserve the church in purity for the Lord?
Where are the servants of God:
who have overcome all conscious sin,
who hate and despise money,
who are discreet with all women, and
who seek no man’s honour or recognition?
They are rare to find in every country.
But God needs such men today.
If you want to be such a man of God, in these the closing days of this age, read this book….
God calls and prepares His servants
God needs men to do His work, because He has made His work on earth to be dependent on man. If the man God calls is not ready, God’s work is delayed or hindered. However if one man fails to respond to God’s call, God will call another.
God called Abraham when he was in Ur, to leave his home and his relatives and to go into an unknown land. If Abraham had been unwilling to obey, God would not have forced him. God would have called someone else. And we would never have heard of Abraham.
It is a tremendous privilege to be called by God to serve Him. But it brings with it a great and awesome responsibility too.
In God’s perfect plan for the descendants of Jacob, they were to spend exactly four centuries in Egypt. He had told Abraham many years earlier that his descendants would be slaves in a strange land for 400 years (Genesis 15:13). But when God finally delivered the Israelites from Egypt, they had spent 430 years in Egypt (Exodus 12:40).
Why did they have to spend 30 years longer than God’s perfect plan for them?
In all probability, because Moses was not yet ready to lead them. To deliver the Israelites from Egypt, God needed a man. But that man had to be prepared by God first to be a spiritual leader.
God’s Servants have to Be Broken
When Moses was 40, he was strong in himself and felt qualified to be the leader of the Israelites. Yet in God’s eyes he was not ready.
Acts 7:22 says that at the age of 40, “Moses was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in speech and action.” (TLB). When Moses visited his Israeli brethren one day, he saw one of them being unjustly treated by an Egyptian. He defended the Israelite and killed the Egyptian. He thought that the Israelites would recognise him thus as their God-appointed leader. But they did not.
Moses still did not understand what it was to be a servant of God.
And so God took Moses out into the wilderness to break his confidence in his human strength and wisdom. In God’s perfect plan, that training was probably scheduled to take only 10 years. But it took 40 years instead, for Moses to be broken.
And so the Israelites had to wait for 30 more years – for their leader to be ready.
God’s plans can be delayed when God’s leaders are not broken in time. God has an appointed time-period in which we must be broken. We cannot shorten that time-period. But we can lengthen it, if we do not yield to God’s training. If we are hard and unyielding, we ourselves will lose much. And God’s work also suffers.
We may see ourselves, like Moses, well-taught in the doctrines of Scripture, knowing the whole counsel of God, anointed with the Holy Spirit and in our own eyes, as “men of power in words and deeds” (Acts 7:22). We may even be concerned, as Moses was, about our defeated and oppressed brothers. And so, we may imagine that we are well-equipped to serve God. But we are not.
We may be eloquent in our speech (“mighty in words“) as Moses was. The mere fact that others are willing to listen to us preach for one hour proves nothing, for people are willing to listen to political leaders for even two or three hours!! We have to be careful that we don’t seek to do God’s work with our natural resources.
The more gifted we are, the more we are in danger of depending on our human abilities to serve God. That’s why we need to be broken.
The Israelites did not have confidence in Moses. God also did not have confidence in him to appoint him as their leader. How can a man lead others when neither God nor man has confidence in Him?
We may consider ourselves as fit for God to use as His representatives. But God may not think so. If we are to do an effective work for the Lord, we must have the attestation of God on our ministry. And He won’t attest our ministry until we are broken.
Once Moses was broken, the same man who was once mighty in words, finally said, “Lord, I cannot speak” (Exodus 4:10).
How did God break Moses? He sent him into the wilderness. There Moses got married and had to live with his wife’s parents in their home. It is amazing how quickly one can be broken when he has to live in helpless dependence upon his in-laws!! That was how God broke Jacob too, many years earlier.
It was in Moses’ homesituation (with his wife and children, and in-laws) and in his work situation (looking after his father-in-law’s sheep) that God broke him and humbled him. And that education took 40 years. God was willing to wait. And God’s people had to wait too – for God’s man to be ready.
God is waiting even today. There are many places in India where there are needy souls who need to be built together as the Body of Christ. But God is waiting for men whom He can find, whom He can break and prepare, to be used as His servants to build that Body.
That is why we need to see our home and work situations as God’s University. The tense situations that we face with our in-laws and other family members are all part of God’s education process whereby He prepares us to be His servants. He is teaching us something more than doctrine in these situations. He is breaking us.
But how few God finds who submit to Him, as clay in the potter’s hand. Most trainees rebel and refuse to die to themselves – and so God sets them aside.
What Moses learnt in those 40 years was not doctrine. Doctrine can be learnt in a very short time, if one has a clever mind. But it takes time to be broken. It is not easy to be rooted and grounded in small thoughts about ourselves at all times.
We may not consider ourselves as important people when we are in the midst of more mature believers. But when we go to our own home-churches, therewe can begin to think we are quite important. That’s the danger. God has to break us so thoroughly that we recognise ourselves as the least of all the saints, everywhere we go.
God Calls Young Men
Jesus called very young people to be His apostles. Many think that to be an apostle one must be at least 60 or 65 years old. But Jesus chose 30-year-olds to be His first apostles. Jesus Himself was only 33½ when He died. And the eleven apostles were all younger than Him – for we know that rabbis among the Jews always chose people younger than them as their disciples. John may have been only 30 on the day of Pentecost.
When Jesus called these young men, He didn’t look at their experience, but at their wholeheartedness. On the day of Pentecost these young men were anointed with the Holy Spirit and equipped supernaturally to be apostles of the Lord. Their experience and maturity came later. Timothy too became an apostle as a very young man (1 Timothy 4:12).
God calls young men to His service even today. But they must remain humble. The main danger that faces any young man who has been called of God, is spiritual pride.
I have seen many tragic cases in India, of young men called of God to be His servants, who have fallen from their calling. In some cases, as soon as God began to use them in some way, they got puffed up – and God had to set them aside, because they took the glory to themselves that belonged to God. In some other cases, they sought worldly comfort, and ended up as paid workers of Western Christian organisations that paid good salaries. Thus they went astray like Balaam. And in yet other cases, they were attracted by pretty Delilahs, and lost their anointing like Samson. Thus these fine young men sacrificed the calling of God and their anointing, for gaining man’s honour and money or for satisfying their lust for pretty women.
Where are the prophets of God in India today who speak forth God’s Word fearlessly, and who do not care for money, or for pretty women or for the approval of men?
They are rare to find. Those who were called of God have mostly fallen by the wayside.
The sacrifices of God are a broken and contrite spirit. If we are broken and humble, God will always use us. But the day we think we have become somebody, because of the great revelations that we have received, or because of the tremendous ministry that God has given us, we have started backsliding. God will then set us aside.
We may still retain our position as elders in some church. But we will discover in eternity that we have wasted our lives.
God Calls “Zeroes”
In 1 Corinthians 3:5, Paul asks the question “What then is Apollos and what is Paul?“. We would reply that Paul was a mighty apostle of the Lord, who had raised the dead, established many churches, and even written Scripture. But he says of himself, “What is Paul? A SERVANT“. That was his opinion of himself until the end of his life. No wonder Paul never fell by the wayside.
The moment we begin to think of ourselves as anything other than servants of others, we have begun to backslide.
Paul says further, “I planted, Apollos watered“. Which of the two is greater? The one who plants – who goes as a pioneer to an unreached area and does a work for God where nothing existed before? Or the one who comes along later and waters the plant through the teaching of God’s Word and encouragement, and builds the believers into a Body? The answer is “Neither“. Both are “nothing” – says Paul (verse 7). Both are zeroes. Only God – Who caused the plant to grow – is everything.
Paul considered himself a zero until the end of his life. And so God could use him till the end of his life. God was everything to Paul.
The Lord needed a donkey once to speak to Balaam. He needed a donkey at another time to ride into Jerusalem. And He has need of donkeys even today for His purposes. Who are we then? Just donkeys whom the Lord has picked up, to speak through, or to ride on.
Wherever brothers are willing to be nothing so that God might be everything there will never be any competition among them as to who is considered to be the most spiritual or the greatest etc.
Whenever a person tries to project himself as the leader of a group, God will put him on the shelf. It is true that every church must have leaders. But the leader is someone whom God selects.
And if God gives another brother the grace to be recognised by the others as their leader, we should be quick to humble ourselves and accept that fact. If however, we become jealous of his ministry, or covet his position, we will become agents of Satan who hinder the building of the Body of Christ in our locality.
God in His sovereignty knows who is the best person to lead any church. And He doesn’t look for the clever and the intelligent. He chooses those who are weak and broken and those who realize that they are zeroes. Have we realized that?
God’s strictness with His servants
The Word of God teaches us one thing from beginning to end – that God requires much from those to whom He commits much. God is strict with His servants because He has committed much to them.
When Moses was on his way to Egypt, after being commissioned by God at the burning bush, we read that God tried to kill him (Exodus 4:24). That is amazing, considering the fact that God had just called him to His service. And Moses was the only man on earth who was fit to fulfil that task. He was the most important person on earth for the fulfilling of God’s purposes, and God had spent 80 years training him!! Why then did God want to kill Moses?
Moses’ wife, Zipporah, not being a Jew, had not believed in circumcising their son. And Moses had submitted to his wife’s opinion, and disobeyed God. Moses was now going to be the leader of God’s people. And yet here he was pleasing his wife and disobeying God in his own home. When Moses was dying, Zipporah knew at once the reason for her husband’s illness. So she circumcised her son immediately. Only then did God spare Moses’ life.
There we can see that God does not tolerate any compromise or disobedience or wife-pleasing in His servants. If we are to lead God’s people, we must be totally obedient. There is no partiality with God. He will judge even His most eminent servants if they disobey Him.
The Importance of Patience
When Moses was 120 years old, God punished him again. And this time the punishment was not lifted. God had told him to speak to the rock for the water to flow. But Moses lost his temper and hit out at God’s people first and then hit the rock too (Numbers 20:7-13). That looks like a small mistake to us. But it was serious in God’s eyes.
Moses spoke angrily to the people saying, “Listen now, you REBELS….” (Numbers 20:10). The implication there was that all the people were rebels, whereas Moses himself was not! But Moses too was a rebel for he disobeyed God the very next moment. God was not happy with such speech. God’s Word says that
“it went hard with Moses, because he spoke rashly with his lips” (Psalms 106:33).
Do we see the rebellion there, in the very act of hitting out at God’s people? We often speak, without God having told us to speak.
The Bible says,
“Let everyone be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger – because the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God” (James 1:19, 20).
When we see a problem in our home or our church that needs to be sorted out, what do we do? Do we speak and act quickly, without waiting on the Lord? If so, then it is no wonder that we fail and bring confusion into our home and into the church.
It is at such times that we must remember that our anger cannot achieve the righteousness of God. When we are not at rest in our hearts, but agitated with another, the best thing we can do is keep quiet. That way we will at least not do any damage to God’s work.
It is a serious thing to be a servant of God. We cannot take such a responsibility lightly. God’s servants have tremendous authority. But they have to be extremely watchful that they are obedient to God in the smallest thing – especially in their speech.
Once when Moses’ sister Miriam had criticized him, he kept quiet and did not reply. The Holy Spirit’s approval of Moses’ reaction is found in His recording there that Moses “was more humble than any man who was on the face of the earth” (Numbers 12:3). On another occasion, when Korah gathered others in rebellion against Moses and questioned his authority, again Moses did not get provoked, but fell on his face and kept quiet (Numbers 16:4). Why didn’t he keep quiet at Meribah, when the people rebelled against him? Why did he have to speak rashly towards the tail-end of his life?
Patience is the primary mark of a servant of God (2 Timothy 2:24) – and of an apostle (2 Corinthians 12:12). We can be patient for a long time and keep falling on our faces again and again. But the question is whether we will keep on “entrusting our cause to Him Who judges righteously” until the end of our lives, or whether we will begin to justify and defend ourselves, after we have endured for some years (1 Peter 2:23). God will never allow us to be tried or tested by anyone at any time, beyond our ability (1 Corinthians 10:13). But He will allow us to be tested to the limit of our strength. He will however give us grace to be patient, if we are willing to die to ourselves, our rights and our reputation.
May God help us all to be men who will fall on our faces, when we are insulted and badly treated – today, tomorrow, next week, next month, next year, and until the end of our lives.
Moses would have entered Canaan if he had fallen on his face at Meribah. He missed so much by being careless at just one point towards the end of his life. There have been many other servants of God like that, who lived in faithfulness for many years, and then became careless and slipped up towards the end of their lives. Thus they ruined God’s plan for their lives.
On an earlier occasion, we read that God had punished the Israelites with the same punishment that He gave Moses – not being permitted to enter Canaan. But they had rebelled against God TEN TIMES (Numbers 14:22). God gave the Israelites ten chances, before punishing them. But He gave Moses only ONE chance. Why? Because God expected more from Moses than from the Israelites.
The Israelites had seen only God’s external actions, but Moses had understood God’s ways, having spoken with God face to face (Psalms 103:6). If we represent God and preach His word, He will expect ten times more from us than from others in our church.
God’s servants cannot be careless in their speech, even when they are provoked. Only when they learn to eliminate worthless words from their speech, can they become God’s spokesmen (Jeremiah 15:19).
The Importance of Total Obedience
Saul was another man whom God chose to lead Israel. Saul never wanted to be a king. It was God Who placed him on the throne of Israel. And when the Israelites came to make him king, Saul hid himself, saying, “Who am I to be the king? My family is the least of all the families of Israel” (1 Samuel 10:21, 22). What a humble man he was!
But it wasn’t long before Saul became big in his own eyes and God had to take away the anointing from him.
In 1 Samuel 15, we read that Saul modified God’s commands and did not kill everything of Amalek, as God had commanded him to. He followed his own reason, and did what pleased the people. This is what happens when anyone becomes big in his own eyes. And here we see two of the greatest snares that every servant of God faces – the opinion of his own reason and the opinion of other people. Saul lost his anointing because he allowed himself to be influenced by these two factors. We have no right to modify any of God’s commands according to our own wisdom. And if we seek to please men, we “cannot be servants of Christ” (Galatians 1:10).
If Saul had remained small in his own eyes, he would have retained the anointing until the end of his life. But he began to love his throne. And that is how many another servant of God has lost his anointing too. Standing repeatedly before people, as God’s spokesmen, has a way of going to our heads, if we are not watchful.
But Saul did not only cling on to being king. When he saw an anointed younger brother (David) coming up, and others having confidence in him, he schemed to suppress him. He was jealous of David, because David had a faith that Saul did not have. And he wanted to kill David because the people admired him.
But does God ignore the actions of such Sauls – who stick to their thrones, even after God has rejected them? For a long time God may spare them. In Saul’s case, God spared him for 13 years. David was about 17 years old when he killed Goliath. But he became king only when he was 30. For 13 years after David had been anointed by God, God allowed Saul to continue to rule as Israel’s king.
What lesson does all of this have for us?
God may allow us, even after we have become backsliders, to stay on in a ministry, long after we have lost the anointing of the Spirit.
Others may not recognise that we have lost the anointing, because of their lack of discernment. So they may continue to accept us as servants of God, because they respect our age or Bible knowledge or experience. But we must not imagine that such acceptance by the people is sufficient for us to remain as God’s servants.
What is the use of man accepting us if God Himself has rejected us? It is a terrible tragedy when a man continues to serve the Lord or to lead a church, even after the anointing has gone from his life.
Avoiding Hasty Actions
Unfortunately David, when he became king, also modified God’s commands. And God had to punish him too. There is no partiality with God. God is strict with all who serve Him.
In 2 Samuel 6, we see how even good intentions cannot save us from missing God’s will, if we are not exact with God’s Word. David was taking the ark back to Jerusalem – which was a good thing. But he didn’t do it the way God had commanded in the Law. God had commanded the Levites to carry the ark on their shoulders. But David modified that command and placed the ark on a cart and let the oxen pull the cart. There he was imitating the Philistines who had adopted that method a few years earlier (1 Samuel 6:8-12).
There are Christian leaders doing the same thing today. They run their churches according to the management techniques of worldly businesses rather than according to the teachings of God’s Word.
As the oxen carried the ark, they stumbled. When Uzzah saw that, he reached out his hand and held the ark, to prevent it from falling. And God killed Uzzah, immediately “for his irreverence” (verse 7).
It is sad, but true, that when God’s shepherds make a mistake, the sheep suffer too. David had made a mistake and Uzzah suffered for it. And David learnt there that God is very strict with His servants.
Uzzah had the best of intentions. Yet “the anger of the Lord burned against Uzzah” (verse 7). Uzzah had been taught from childhood that only the Levites could touch the ark. But he took God’s commandment lightly in that moment and suffered for it.
The error of Uzzah can be repeated today. When we see things going wrong in our church, we can reach out our hands “to steady God’s ark“. And God may smite us, because even though our intentions may have been good, we went outside our “boundaries“. We may have done what our reason told us was right. But we did not wait on the Lord to find out His will. We acted in haste.
Jesus said, “I will build my Church” (Matthew 16:18). Building the church is the Lord’s business, not ours. He has never delegated that task to any of us. So when we say, “I am building the church in such-and-such a place”, that is arrogant conceit. If ever we begin to think that the Body of Christ is our own private business, we will certainly make the mistake that Uzzah made, one day or the other.
If we see the church shaking, let us go to God and tell Him, “Lord, YOU are building the church, not me. Preserve Your church.”
And when we feel that things are not going as they should, let us ask ourselves whose work it is and who is in charge of it. Is it the Holy Spirit or we?
At times, we may feel that something has to be done immediately. But if we act without listening to the Holy Spirit, we will always act in the flesh. And our actions, even if done with good intentions, will cause more confusion than if we had done nothing. So we must say,
“Lord, You are in charge here. The government is on Your shoulders. And I want to listen to You. Tell me what YOU want me to do.”
There are many types of fools described in the book of Proverbs. But finally, the greatest fool of all is described thus,
“Do you see a man who is HASTY in his words (or his matters)? There is more hope for a fool than for him”(Proverbs 29:20).
The one who is hasty – hasty to say something or to do something – feels absolutely confident that he knows what is best for any situation. He doesn’t have to consult God at all. He can act on his own. Such a man is the greatest fool in the world.
It was prophesied about Jesus that,
“He will delight in the fear of the Lord and He will not judge by what His eyes see or His ears hear” (Isaiah 11:3).
Jesus could not avoid seeing many things because His eyes were not blind. Neither could He avoid hearing many things because He was not deaf. But He feared His Father so much that He would never make a judgment or form an opinionmerely on the basis of what He saw or heard. As He once said of Himself,
“The Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father doing” (John 5:19).
When the Pharisees came to Jesus with the woman caught in adultery, Jesus did not reply to their question for some time. He was waiting to hear from His Father. When He heard, He spoke. It was just one sentence: “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone”. That accomplished more than an hour-long sermon would have done!
When someone comes to us with a complicated problem, if we give him advice based on our cleverness and our past experience, the problem may only become more complicated. But one word of wisdom from the Father can work wonders.
And so the next time we see “the oxen stumbling and the ark about to fall“, let us not be eager to put our names at the top of the list of fools!! Let us not be quick to judge by what our eyes see and what our ears hear, and act in irreverence. Instead, let us put our faces in the dust before the Lord and say, “Lord, I lack wisdom here. What do You want me to do?”
It is so difficult to acknowledge that we lack wisdom, especially when we know that the others in the church are younger and more immature than us. But if we humbly acknowledge our need, God will give us wisdom in abundance.
Keeping Our Word
We see yet another example of God’s strictness with His servants in 2 Samuel 21:1. During the days of David’s kingship, there was a famine in Israel, for three continuous years. When there is a famine of the prophetic word in our assembly like that, it is good for us to do what David did. He sought the Lord for an answer. And the Lord said “This is because, many years ago, Israel broke the promise that she had made to the Gibeonites”.
Israel had promised the Gibeonites 300 years earlier, in Joshua’s time, that their descendants would never be harmed. But Saul had broken that promise and killed some of them, when he was king. The punishment for that sin caught up with Israel only 30 years later. God keeps His accounts very carefully. Nothing is forgotten of the wrongs that we have done, if we have not settled the matters righteously. God may take 30 years to settle His accounts with us. But they will be settled one day. God did not remove the famine from Israel until the matter was settled.
All who serve God must be very careful with the words they speak, not only in the meetings, but also outside the meetings.
We should not promise to do something for someone and then forget about it. For example, we should not promise to pray for people (who ask us to pray for them), and then forget to do so.
If we are unable to pray for the many who ask us to pray for them, then we must be honest and tell them, “I will pray for you when I remember to.” Or alternatively pray for them then and there. But we should never make promises that we cannot keep.
How can we speak God’s word solemnly if we make promises to others lightly? If we are unable to do something that we promised to do, we must go to that person and explain why we could not keep our word, and ask for his forgiveness. It is serious to break a promise.
“Every idle word that men speak they will give an account in the day of judgment”(Matthew 12:36).
God takes the promises we make to others quite seriously. We have no right to break our word, even to unbelievers or to servants (as the Gibeonites were).
We may imagine that since no punishment has come upon us for a long time, that God has forgotten about the unrighteousness we did somewhere, that has remained unsettled. But God never forgets. God’s judgments may be slow in coming, but they will come finally.
“Therefore let us offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.”(Hebrews 12:28, 29).
The Lord rebukes the elders
Revelation Chapters 2 & 3, are good chapters for us to read because they contain the Lord’s messages to the elder brothers (messengers) of churches. The Lord publiclyrebuked the backslidden elders in five of the seven churches. He did not send “Personal and Confidential” letters to them through the apostle John, but letters that were to be read out to all the believers in those churches.
Ephesus – No Devotion to the Lord
The elder in Ephesus was rebuked, not for falling into some gross sin, but for losing that fervent devotion for the Lord that he had had in earlier days (Revelation 2:1-5). Perhaps he was now so taken up with preaching sermons every Sunday, that he had forgotten all about devotion to the Lord in his personal life. This was a serious error.
Satan always seeks to turn us away from “simple devotion to Christ” to something secondary (2 Corinthians 11:3). When our work for the Lord becomes more important to us than the Lord Himself, we have already started backsliding. All our labours for the Lord must flow out of our personal relationship with Him. Otherwise they will have no spiritual value. They will be but dead works and social service.
Whenever anything becomes more important to us than the Lord Himself, we can no longer be servants of the NEWcovenant – for the new covenant emphasises A RELATIONSHIP WITH the Lord, unlike the old covenant that emphasised SERVICE FOR the Lord. If we have not understood this difference, we can never build the Body of Christ.
Pergamum – Worldly Teaching Tolerated
The elder in Pergamum was rebuked for allowing people to teach doctrines that led the church into worldliness and into a lax attitude towards sin (Revelation 2:14, 15). He himself may have been a good man. But he permitted others to teach Balaam’s doctrine. So he was guilty.
The Lord holds elders responsible to ensure that no preaching is permitted in the church that leads people to take sin lightly. There is “a doctrine that leads to godliness” (to a godly, Christ-like life), and that alone is “hygienic teaching” (1 Timothy 6:3 – margin). Every other teaching is unhygienic to a greater or lesser degree.
Why did this elder permit such lax teachings in his church? Probably he never corrected the brothers and sisters for anything, because he wanted a reputation as a humble and gentle brother. If so, he sought his own honour more than the good of the church.
“Humility” and “gentleness” are virtues that we must learn from the example of Jesus, as He Himself told us to do (Matthew 11:29). Otherwise we can get a false understanding of what they mean.
Jesus’ humility and gentleness did not prevent Him from driving the money changers out of the temple, or from rebuking Peter with strong words such as, “Get behind me Satan“, when Peter preached a false doctrine, that Jesus should avoid the cross(Matthew 16:22, 23).
Satan can use even a goodbrother like Peter to lead the church astray. For that brother may speak in the meetings in such a way as to dilute the word of the cross. Such preaching must always be recognised as the voice of Satan – for thus Satan can turn the church away from the direction that God wants it to take.
One of the greatest responsibilities we have as elders of churches, is to determine the direction that our church should take. It must not be the direction of worldliness and compromise. Neither must it be the direction of Pharisaism and legalism. But it must be the way of the cross – the direction of the will of God.
Balaam-like preachers usually have great soul-power and can have an unhealthy influence on people in a church. Preachers who have a powerful human personality invariably overwhelm others, and hinder them from being connected to Christ as their Head. They also influence others in such a way as to lead them away from true spirituality, into superficial, worldly religiosity
When a preacher has not understood what it is to put his soul-power to death, he will connect believers to himself, and not to Christ the Head. The believers will admire and follow the preacher, but they will never overcome sin or the world in their lives.
There is a vast difference between spiritual power and soul-power, and we must be able to discern between the two. A person may have a lot of Bible-knowledge and a gift to speak. He may even be very hospitable to the brothers and sisters, and help them in many practical ways. But if he connects people to himself and not to Christ, he will be a hindrance to the building of the Body of Christ.
Balaam-like preachers are happy to receive gifts from others (Numbers 22:15-17). A gift can blind our eyes (Proverbs 17:8), and make us obligated to men, so that we become their slaves. That can hinder us from speaking the truth of God and correcting our benefactors.
A servant of God must always remain free. “You have been bought with a price. Do not become the servants of men.” (1 Corinthians 7:23).
The teaching of Balaam flourished in the church in Pergamum because the elder there had become a slave of men.
Balaam’s teaching has two parts to it. Peter mentions both of them in 2 Peter 2:14, 15 – covetousness and adultery.
Jesus said that the one who loves money HATES GOD, and the one who clings on to money DESPISES GOD (Read Luke 16:13 carefully).
If we don’t teach that clearly, the teaching of Balaam will flourish in our church, and the brothers and sisters will be lovers of money.
But if we are to teach what Jesus taught, we must first be freed from the grip of money ourselves. It is easier to be freed from anger and from lusting with the eyes, than to be freed from the grip of money? Only through constant battle can we overcome this evil.
Have we seen the love of money as “a root of all sorts of evil” (1 Timothy 6:10)? While anger and lusting with the eyes are recognised as evils, the love of money is not. And thus many are enslaved to money, little realising that thereby they hate and despise God.
The vast majority of so-called “full-time workers” in India, are enslaved to the love of money, like Balaam. They visit the homes of rich believers, because they know that they will get gifts from them. And thus their mouths are shut when these rich and influential people have to be rebuked for their sins. They travel to preach in churches where they know they will receive handsome offerings. How can such preachers ever serve God? That is impossible. They are serving Mammon. Jesus said that no one could serve two masters.
There are three essential qualifications for anyone who wants to be a servant of God, under the new covenant:
He must be freed from sin in his personal life(Romans 6:22).
We must check our lives constantly in these three areas to see whether we qualify to be servants of the new covenant or not.
Money and material things must have NO hold on our lives, if we are to be effective for God.
We must also hate to receive gifts, for Jesus said that “there is more blessing in GIVING than in RECEIVING” (Acts 20:35).
If we don’t break free from the grip of money in our lives, we will never be able to love God or to serve Him, as we should. And we won’t be able to lead others to love God. And we won’t be able to deliver them from the teaching of Balaam.
The second aspect of the teaching of Balaam is immorality. This teaching encourages brothers and sisters to mingle freely with each other, without any restraint. We read in Revelation 2:14, that it was Balaam who encouraged the Moabite girls to mingle freely with the Israeli young men. This led to such immorality among the Israelites, that God slew 24,000 in a single day (Numbers 25:1-9).
Only when Phinehas lifted up a spear and put a stop to it, did God’s anger against Israel cease. When God saw Phinehas’s action, He was so pleased that he gave him the covenant of an everlasting priesthood (Numbers 25:11-13). God always honours those who are radical against the loose mingling of brothers and sisters in the church.
Here again, as elders, we must be examples, by our personal conduct. We must be serious in our behaviour with sisters and avoid all flippant and unnecessary conversation with them. We must be especially wary of those sisters who always want to speak to us. If we love to talk to the sisters, we are unfit to lead God’s church. We must NEVERspeak to women alone in a closed room. It is always best to counsel sisters along with one’s wife, or with another elder brother.
When the disciples saw Jesus speaking to a woman at the well in Samaria, it is written that “they marvelled that He had been speaking with a woman” (John 4:27) – because Jesus usually never spoke to a woman alone. He was careful not to do anything that had even the appearance of evil. Here is the example for all of us to follow.
Thyatira – A Woman Running the Church
The Lord rebuked the elder at Thyatira for allowing a woman, Jezebel, (his “wife” – Revelation 2:20 – margin), to have such a strong influence in the affairs of the church that many brothers were being led astray. There are servants of God like that even today, who cannot restrain their wives and other sisters from interfering in church matters.
God has not called women to have any part in the leadership of new-covenant churches. That is taught clearly in 1 Timothy 2:12. But there are strong sisters everywhere who would like to have an influence in the running of their churches. All such women are Jezebels. Sisters are called to be “workers at home” (Titus 2:5). But if they begin to have a say in church matters, then there will be confusion in the church. An elder’s wife can influence her husband so powerfully at home that all that he says in the elders’ meetings will be but an echo of what she has drummed into his head at home!!
Elders like that are effeminateand totally unfit to be servants of God. Such elders must be categorised as women, and are therefore unfit to hold any positions of leadership in the church.
Sardis – Living on One’s Reputation
The Lord rebuked the elder in Sardis for being a hypocrite. He had a name before people that he was alive, when in reality, he was spiritually dead. There were a few however in the assembly in Sardis who were wholehearted and zealous, who had kept their garments pure. It is indeed a sad state of affairs when other brothers in the assembly are more God-fearing than the elder.
The elder in Sardis may have got a name for himself through his preaching and through testifying to the great things God had done through him. We may experience wonderful miracles in our ministry. But there is a real danger when we begin to speak about them.
If you look at the example of Jesus, you will notice that He never spoke about such matters. He never testified anywhere about the miracles that He had done elsewhere. He preached God’s Word and never spoke about what the Father had done through Him. All His righteousness and His works were done in secret before His Father.
Jesus must have had some amazing experiences with His Father, during the 30 years that He spent in Nazareth. But He never spoke one word about any of them. He knew that they were all to be kept secret. He never sought to make a name for Himself before others. Let us make Jesus our Example in this matter too.
When we give a testimony, it is very easy for dishonesty and exaggeration to creep in. We may tell others about someone who was healed through our prayer, for example, but never tell them about the hundred others whom we prayed for who were not healed. In such cases, we are not speaking the whole truth.
We must be thoroughly honest if we are to be the Lord’s servants. Others must neverget a better impression of us than what we actually are. It is far better if they think less of us.
And those who boast of spiritual gifts that they don’t really have, are like deceptive clouds that don’t bring the needed rain (Proverbs 25:14).
Are you really such a great man of faith as you have made yourself out to be to others? Consider the times when you have been anxious. Were you such a great man of faith then? Does your wife (who knows you better than anyone else) consider you to be a great man of faith? Most elders who have a name before others do not have much of a name before their own wives, who know them as they really are!!
Why are we afraid to let others see us as we really are? Isn’t it because we want to appear superior to them? And when we do confess our failures, do we confess only “holy sins” such as the fact that we are not praying enough or not fasting enough etc.?
Such confessions are hypocritical and are only designed to increase one’s reputation! All such hypocritical elders need to repent.
We must also remember that we will always produce children exactly like ourselves. It says about Adam that “he became the father of a son in HIS OWN LIKENESS” (Genesis 5:3). There are weaknesses in our bloodstream that others are not able to see, except under a powerful microscope. But we still transmit them to our children.
It is the same spiritually. There can be areas of failure in our lives that others may never see. But over a period of time, we will find that our spiritual children have got the same weaknesses too.
Every church finally becomes like its leader. That is why the seven letters in Revelation 2 & 3 are first of all addressed to the messengers of the churches, and then it says, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says TO THE CHURCHES“.
If we are secretly dishonest, we will ultimately produce dishonest brothers and sisters. If we are secretly lustful or miserly, that is how others in our church will finally turn out to be as well. The only exceptions will be those who have the discernment to see through our carnality and who do not follow our example.
There were some wholehearted young believers like that in Sardis, who did not become like their elder, because they saw through his carnality and did not follow his example.
One of the greatest deceptions that we can be in, is to imagine that we are building the true church, when we are motivated by the spirit of Babylon – to make a name for ourselves.
The origin of Babylon (the false church described in Revelation 17 & 18) is found in the tower of Babel.
At Babel, the people said to one another, “Let us build something that will get us a name” (Genesis 11:4) That is the essence of Babylon.
Has God prospered our work? Have we got a name for ourselves through our work for the Lord? Then there can come all unconsciously a feeling in our hearts that we have been faithful, unlike others who have been unfaithful. One of the easiest ways to go down into spiritual death is through such self-congratulation.
That is how Nebuchadnezzar fell, and began to behave like an animal. Read Daniel 4 and meditate on it, for it has a much-needed message for us all. There Nebuchadnezzar thought within himself, “Is this not Babylon which I myself have built?” (Daniel 4:30). Notice there that he didn’t saythat to anyone. He only had such thoughts in his heart. But God judged him immediately and made him insane.
That is how many preachers and elders have fallen from grace through the centuries. He who has ears to hear let him hear – and let him beware lest the same fate befall him too.
How will God humble a servant of His who has such high thoughts about himself and about his labours for the Lord?
He will begin to discover carnality within his own heart and in his church. He will find himself defeated in his thought-life, and loving money. There will be friction between some of the brothers in the church. The family-lives of many in the church will begin to deteriorate. There will be no spirit of prophecy in the church, even after many years. The meetings will be dull and boring. No leadership will develop in the church apart from the lone elder at the top!!
Seeing all this, the elder will begin to realise that there is not much spiritual content either in him or in his church. Perhaps his assembly has grown in numbers, but not spiritually. On the contrary, there is every evidence of spiritual death.
Most elders, when they see such things, will conceal them from others, and pretend that everything is all right in the church. And thus they will degenerate and become exactly like the elder in Sardis.
We don’t have to wait many years to discover such things. God can give us discernment, so that we see these things in ourselves and in the church very quickly. But God will give us discernment only if we seek His honour alone, and don’t care for the honour of men.
We must remember that God is not impressed by the numerical growth of a church, if it is not growing spiritually.
Paul told the Christians at Corinth that God would humble him, through their carnal state (Read 2 Corinthians 12:20, 21). Why should Paul feel humiliated by the carnality of the Corinthians?
Because Paul was their spiritual father. And God holds fathers responsible for the spiritual state of their children.
When we see carnality in our assembly, God is showing us our own failure as leaders. We are the ones who should humble ourselves then, instead of blaming the brothers and sisters. When we see worldliness in our children, God is showing us our failure as fathers. We must humble ourselves, instead of blaming our children.
If we are hirelings, we will criticise the brothers and sisters when we see their failings. But if we are men of God, we will humble ourselves and say, “Lord I have failed. Forgive me.“
Paul had a great burden that the heathen whom he had brought to Christ should be “so sanctified that they could be offered up as pure offering to God” (Romans 15:16).
Under the old covenant, the priest had to examine every sacrifice that the people brought, to see that it was without any blemish (Deuteronomy 17:1). That was the priest’s responsibility. He could not offer to God what was maimed in any way. (Read Malachi 1 & 2 to understand how serious a sin that was in God’s eyes).
Now under the new covenant, all those whom the Lord calls to His service in the church have the same task. The people they present to God must be acceptable to Him. That was why Paul laboured “to present EVERY man perfect in Christ” (Colossians 1:28).
At the judgment seat of Christ, everything will become manifest. What profit will it be to us even if everyone thinks we are doing a great work for God, if in that day it is seen that all our labours were shallow and carnal? The elder in Sardis was foolish to be satisfied with man’s honour.
Do we desire to get a name for ourselves – through our children? Maybe it’s going well with them. Praise the Lord for that. But do we want others to notice that, so that we get some glory from it ourselves? Do we want others to know what wonderful fathers we have been? Are we bringing up our children for our own glory or God’s?
Certainly, we all want to bring up our children to be wholehearted Christians. But shouldn’t it be enough if God sees that? And if God has seen it why do we want any man’s approval?
What does it matter even if others think our children are worldly? We have to answer to God alone ultimately.
It is good to have a sober estimate of ourselves and of our church.
There is a great lust in the flesh to show others the result of our labours. If we don’t put that lust to death, Satan will always take advantage of us. Wherever he sees the slightest desire in any elder’s heart to get a name for himself, Satan will take advantage of him, and deceive him, even while he is preaching about discipleship, holiness and the Body of Christ.
Such an elder will build only another branch-church of Babylon!
It is impossible to build the Body of Christ, if we are seeking a name for ourselves. The only one who can build a new covenant church is the one who has no desire for name or fame among men.
If there are only 3 wholehearted disciples in your church after many years of labour, because you refused to make the narrow gate any wider than a needle’s eye, you don’t have to be ashamed of that. God will say to you one day, “Well done, good and faithful servant“.
It is far better to have 3 disciples in a town who are a pure testimony for Christ, than 3000 compromisers through whom the Name of the Lord is blasphemed.
But when our numbers are small, we can be tempted strongly to lower our standards, in order to impress others with better statistics. If we don’t battle that lust, we will end up like the elder in Sardis.
I want to add a word of warning here however, to those leaders who may find a false comfort in these words.
It is possible that your church is not growing in numbers, because God Himself cannot recommend it to other needy people.
It is the Lord Who adds to the church (Acts 2:47). And in the early days, He did add large numbers to the church (Acts 6:7).
It may be good for you to pray something like this:
“Lord, we are not asking You to increase the numbers in our church with a multitude of compromisers. But we do pray for ALL those in this town, who are seeking to live a godly life. Lord, please do one of these three things:
LEAD THEM TO US so that we can help them; or
LEAD US TO THEM; or
SHOW US WHY YOU CAN’T RECOMMEND US to them.”
The Lord may then tell you that He cannot recommend your church to others, because it is so legalistic and cold and Pharisaical!! He may also tell you that the reason why your church is like that is because you yourself are like that as an elder!!
Then the only thing for you to do is to mourn and repent.
If we want to be free from seeking the honour and approval of men in our ministry, the only way to do that is by building up a bridal relationship with the Lord. In The Song of Solomon, the bride speaks of her life and work as a garden that produces fruit for her Bridegroom alone (Song of Solomon 4:16b). When our goal is to satisfy our heavenly Bridegroom alone, then our heart will be at rest, at all times.
We will rest content in knowing that our Lord has accepted us just as we are, with all our limitations. We will realise that He does not expect us to have a ministry like anyone else. Thus we will be free from the spirit of competition that is rife in Christendom. We will also be free from the lust to report the results of our work to others.
The Lord has given us the gifts that are necessary for our unique contribution to the Body of Christ, and He has given us a specific task to complete. We are to fulfil that task to the best of our ability, by His grace and power, and we are not to let anyone else know about what we are doing for Him – just like a bride does not want anyone else to know the things that she does secretly for her bridegroom!
So, let us build a bridal relationship with our Lord, lest we end up like the elder in Sardis.
Laodicea – Not Knowing One’s Wretchedness
The elder in Laodicea was rebuked strongly by the Lord for a number of reasons.
He felt he was rich and increased with goods and had need of nothing. Riches are notrelated only to money. One can be rich in knowledge, gifts and talents too – and thus feel self-sufficient.
Those who are intelligent, eloquent and gifted need to walk with fear, because they are in constant danger of being proud of these human abilities and of depending more on them than on the Lord.
The elder here was satisfied with his Bible-knowledge, his gifts, his achievements, and his position as an elder. But he was not aware of the fact that in God’s eyes, he was still spiritually “wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked” (Revelation 3:17). It is sad indeed when we are ignorant of our true spiritual condition, as God sees us.
While this elder brother was totally ignorant of the fact that he was a wretched man, we find a godly man like the apostle Paul crying out and saying, “O wretched man that I am” (Romans 7:24).
How did Paul know his own wretchedness and the Laodicean elder not know his? Because Paul lived before God’s face, while the Laodicean elder did not. In God’s light, Paul constantlyrealised that his flesh was corrupt (Romans 7:18). Thus Paul remained constantly poor in spirit, and became a godly man. The Laodicean elder however, not seeing the wretchedness of his flesh, became carnal and lukewarm.
It is very easy for self-satisfaction and self-sufficiency to come into the life of a servant of God, if he does not live before God’s face – for he will not see his own need. And evidence of this will be seen in the way he speaks and preaches. The way a needy person speaks is quite different from the way a strong self-sufficient person speaks.
There are gifted preachers who can speak well, who are eloquent, and who know the doctrine well. But if you listen to their spirit when they speak, you will be able to sense an arrogance there. They speak as experts, and not as those who are poor and needy themselves.
The Body of Christ cannot be built by men who have a strong, arrogant spirit, but only by men who have a humble, gentle spirit.
It is easy for an arrogant preacher to whip people in his sermons!! Then he becomes like the servant Jesus spoke of, whose master had appointed him to give others their daily ration of food. But instead of giving them food, he whipped them (Luke 12:45)! Unfortunately, there is a lot of whipping that goes on from the pulpit in Christendom today. Whipping never leads anyone to a godly life, but only to feelings of condemnation, and to subservience to the preacher who whips him.
Consider how a poor, helpless beggar speaks to anyone. It is always with meekness and respect – because he knows that he is a nobody in the world. That is how the Bible tells us to speak to all human beings, for we too are nobodies in the world (1 Peter 3:15). On the other hand, how does a dictator speak? Always with arrogance.
Does our speech come from poverty of spirit or from arrogance?
1 Peter 2:17 commands us to “honour all men“. Is there a single human being on earth who is excluded from that command? No.
A brother who is not eloquent, and who does not know much of the Word, but who has a humble, gentle spirit, will build the Body of Christ far more than an arrogant brother who is gifted and eloquent.
The gifted brother may look like a spiritual man here on earth, and others may even consider him to be a great asset to the church. But at the judgment seat of Christ it will be seen that it was the humbler brother who actually built the Body of Christ.
It is essential that we realise that the Body of Christ is built, not by Bible-knowledge and spiritual gifts primarily, but by our life.
Only the poor in spirit can build the kingdom of God (Matthew 5:3). And there is only one way to remain poor in spirit (aware of our own spiritual need) constantly, and that is, by looking at Jesus always.
When we see ourselves in His light, we will realise how unlike Him we are, even if we are better than others around us. In His light, we will lose sight of the weaknesses of others, and see only our own. And we shall spontaneously say, “Oh, wretched man that I am” (Romans 7:24). We won’t have to be prompted by anyone to say it.
But we must live in that state always. Otherwise we can easily backslide into the deep pit of lukewarmness, carnality and arrogant pride that the Laodicean elder was in.
Under the old covenant, the high-priest could go into the Most Holy Place only once a year. He could see the glory of God, and his own wretchedness in that glory only once a year. But now that the new and living way has been opened by Jesus (Hebrews 10:20), we can live in the Most Holy Place, in the presence of God all the time – and see the wretchedness of our flesh all the time, like Paul did.
The old covenant prophets could see the glory of God only once in a while. When Isaiah saw it, he cried out saying, “Woe is me, for I am ruined” (Isaiah 6:5). But now we have the privilege of getting that revelation continuously. We can constantly cry “Woe is me“, instead of pronouncing woes on others!! Those who live in the Spirit will see their need constantly and remain poor in spirit at all times.
Only a man who is poor in spirit is really spiritually wealthy in God’s eyes. And when such a man speaks to us, either in personal conversation or in a meeting, we can partake of his spiritual wealth.
An eloquent preacher who is not poor in spirit however, can only show us pictures of wealth. He cannot make us actually wealthy.
We must give the poor in spirit the most prominent places of ministry in our assembly – and not the most gifted ones. Gifted brothers, who are not poor in spirit, can destroy the church.
The church cannot be destroyed by adulterers and thieves – because these people are such obvious sinners that everyone can recognise them as such. But the church can be destroyed by eloquent preachers and gifted teachers who, like the Laodicean elder, have no sense of their own need, and who yet preach about holiness.
If we are unable to discern between those who are poor in spirit and those who are arrogant in spirit, the reason could be that we ourselves are not poor in spirit. As elders, if we don’t see our own need first, how can we ever help others to see their need?
Oh how we need to pray that God will give us light on ourselves first, if we are to keep our assemblies pure for the Lord.
Hearing the Lord Directly
It is sad to note that these five elders were so deaf that they could not hear the Lord speak to them directly. The Lord had to rebuke them through the apostle John. Why was that necessary in the new covenant age? It was only under the old covenant that people had to hear God’s message through a prophet. If these elder brothers had been humble and God-fearing, they could have heard God speaking directly to them, without John having to write to them.
And after these elders got these letters from John, we don’t know whether they repented or not. We can only hope they did. I wonder if the elder in Thyatira told his wife to mind her own business and to keep her nose out of church matters. Or did she tell her husband not to bother about John’s letter?
If these five elders did accept the Lord’s rebukes through John, then it must certainly have gone well with them.
We do know however that at least one elder in another church did not accept what John wrote. John writes in 3 John about Diotrephes, who loved his position as an elder, and who would not accept John’s correction (3 John 9).
If we are to serve the Lord, we must see ourselves at all times as the Lord sees us – and not as our brothers see us. God’s Word can protect us from every spiritual danger, if we live before God’s face constantly and listen to the voice of His Spirit – either when He speaks to us directly or when He speaks to us through another brother.
Finally, remember that the Lord never rebukes us to condemn us for our past failures, but always to give us a better future.
An example for others to follow
John the Baptist was the greatest prophet under the old covenant. But Jesus said that the least one in the new covenant would be able to rise to greater heights than John (Matthew 11:11). This is an amazing calling indeed – to be greater than John the Baptist.
Ministry under the newcovenant is a vastly higher calling than ministry under the old covenant. There are many things that we can learn from the lives of old-covenant servants of God, like Moses, Elijah and John the Baptist. But while they served God, following commandments, today we are to serve God, following an Example.
Jesus is now our Example of what it means to be a servant of God. How did Jesus become our High Priest? Not through His miraculous ministry, but by His being “made in all things like unto us, His brethren” (Hebrews 2:17), and becoming an example for us.
Jesus said that the Father had given Him “authority over all mankind” (John 17:2). Why was that authority given? In the same verse Jesus tells us that it was in order “to give eternal life to those whom the Father gave Him“. “Eternal life” does not mean a life that never ends, but “a life that had no beginning and has no end“. In other words, it describes the life of God or the Divine nature.
The old covenant servants of God like Moses, Joshua, Samson, David etc., had authority to rule over Israel and to overcome their human enemies. But under the new covenant, God’s servants are given authority to lead others to partake of the Divine nature (eternal life), and to enable them to overcome the lusts in their flesh.
Our authority in the church is to lead the brothers and sisters to become like Jesus Who manifested the Divine nature in every situation in His earthly life. We have no other authority than that. If we are notexercising our authority to lead others to partake of the Divine nature, we have to consider ourselves as failures.
Unfortunately many Christian leaders today are like old covenant servants of God, ruling over the people. Jesus and the apostles however were servants of all men.
Which covenant are we living under – the old or the new?
Jesus is called our Forerunner (Hebrews 6:20). He went the same way that we have to go, ahead of us. We are exhorted to “run the race looking unto Jesus ….Who also endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:1, 2). He was “tempted in every point as we are, and did not sin” (Hebrews 4:15), so that we might “follow in His steps Who committed no sin” (1 Peter 2:21, 22).
Jesus faced all our temptations so that He could be an Example for us to follow. That is why His word is so powerful, when He says, “Follow Me“. Now, as shepherds of God’s flock, we also have to lead the flock along the same way. We must also be able to say to others as Paul said, “Be followers of me, just as I follow Christ ….Follow my example” (1 Corinthians 11:1; Philippians 3:17).
Many preachers say, “Don’t follow me. Just follow Christ.” That sounds such a humble statement, that we could be impressed. But it is unScriptural, for none of the apostles ever made such a statement. They always exhorted others to follow them as they followed Christ.
Jesus is the Chief Shepherd and we are under-shepherds of God’s flock. Even so, Jesus is the Forerunner, and we are called to be mini-forerunners to others in the church. We have to go the same way as He went. Having become overcomers ourselves, we can exhort others “to overcome even as we also have overcome” (Revelation 3:21).
The Secret of New-Covenant Ministry
Paul reveals the secret of his effective ministry in these words:
“God strengthens us in all our afflictions, so that we may be able to strengthen those who are in affliction WITH THE SAME STRENGTH WITH WHICH WE ARE STRENGTHENED BY GOD” (2 Corinthians 1:4).
Paul had to go through many afflictions in order to receive a spiritual education. Only thus could he pass on to others the strength that he himself had received when he went through trials. Without such an education, no one can be a servant of the new covenant.
There is a vast difference between an anointed Samson under the old covenant and an anointed Paul under the new covenant. Samson had the Spirit’s power to overcome external lions. Paul however had the Spirit’s power to overcome the lions that dwelt within his own flesh – which Samson could not overcome.
Under the old covenant, God’s servants stood in God’s presence, heard what God had to say, and then told others what they had heard. But that is not sufficient in the new covenant. Now, God’s servants must go through trials and afflictions and experience God’s grace helping them to overcome in all those trials, and then exhort others to follow their own example. That is how new covenant ministry is far higher than old covenant ministry – and it is far costlier too.
We cannot become servants of the new covenant by going to a Bible-school. No true apostle or prophet in the Bible ever came out of a Bible-school.We cannot study the Bible like we study chemistry, cooped up in a classroom. The Holy Spirit teaches us the meaning of the Scriptures in the midst of life’s situations. That was how the apostles learnt it. And that is how God’s servants learn it today as well. Only thus can we lead others to partake of eternal life. It is by following Jesus that we become servants of the new covenant.
Under the old covenant it was not possible for people to press on to perfection. But in the new covenant we can (See Hebrews 6:1 with 7:19).
But we cannot lead others to perfection if we are not pressing on to perfection ourselves. Only if we are “cleansing OURSELVES from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:1), and “purifying OURSELVES even as Jesus is pure” (1 John 3:3) can we lead others also to such a life. There is no other way.
We have to be mini-forerunners for the others. That is why God takes us through varied and trying situations – more than all the other believers in our churches have to go through. For only thus can we be true shepherds to them. Otherwise we will be hirelings, seeking our own gain – either money or man’s honour.
That does not mean that we have to face all the circumstances that others in our church face. That would be impossible. Jesus did not become our Forerunner by facing all our circumstances, but by being tempted with all the temptations that we face (Hebrews 4:15). Jesus did not have a drunken father or a nagging wife or disobedient children, as some of us may be having. Jesus did not have to wait in long queues outside government offices for a license as we have to wait today. Yet He was our Forerunner, because He faced all the temptations that we face today, in different circumstances in His day.
God has to take us through all the temptations that our brothers and sisters face. But in all those temptations, we must overcome, if we are to serve them, and lead them to partake of eternal life. That is how we become servants of the new covenant.
Peter writes to the elders “to be examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:3). And Paul writes to Timothy (in 1 Timothy 4:12) that he should be “an example to those who believe – in speech, love, faith and purity“.
First of all, we must be examples in our speech. Our speech must always be gentle and gracious. We must be totally free from gossiping. If someone shares something with us in confidence, we must be able to keep the matter secret – even from our wives.
We must be examples in love. Others must see that no matter what they say or do to us, our love to them never changes.
We must be examples in faith. In all the trying circumstances that we face, people must see that we never get into a panic, but always have the perfect confidence that God is able to see us through.
We must be examples in purity. We cannot expect purity in the relationships between young brothers and sisters in our churches, if we ourselves are not first class examples in this area.
A Bondslave of Christ
Paul called himself a bondslave of Jesus Christ (Romans 1:1). That is what all the early apostles were. Jesus is looking today for bondslaves – not servants. There is a difference between a servant and a slave. A servant works for pay. A slave gets no salary. God has no servants under the new covenant, only bondslaves.
Jesus never offered any salary to those whom He called to be His apostles. If we are called to full-time Christian work, let us ensure that we never work for a salary, or else we will end up as servants of men. Let us not serve our churches, expecting people to give us gifts. If they choose to do so, without our expecting anything from them, that is all right. But we should never expect anything from anyone.
We must also make it a principle that we will never receive any money from those whose standard of living is lower than ours.
We cannot be servants of the new covenant, if we are working for pay. We must be bondslaves. If we feel that we have a right to comforts and conveniences, then we are paid servants, not bondslaves. A bondslave has no right to anything – not even to honour or reputation.
If God gives us a house to live in, we are thankful. But we will serve Him, even if we don’t have a house to live in. The fact that He gives us the privilege to build the Body of Christ is more than enough for us when we are true bondslaves.
Romans 6:22 speaks of the past present and future of a true bondslave of God.
In the past – freed from conscious sin.
In the present – the fruit of progressive sanctification.
In the future – eternal life (the fullness of the Divine nature).
First of all, we must be freed from conscious sin. Many don’t mourn for their secret failures and that is why they don’t come to a life of victory over sin. We may imagine that impurity in our thought-life is not important, because others don’t see that area of our lives. But it is there that God tests us to see whether we fear Him or not.
Secondly: Increasing sanctification will be the primary fruit that comes forth from our lives, if we are true bondslaves of God. Bringing others to Christ and building them up in the faith will be the secondary fruit. If we are really serving the Lord, our labour will certainly result in increasing godliness in our personal lives.
Sanctification is a process in which we get increasing light on the evil that dwells in our flesh, and in which, as we bear the dying of Jesus in our bodies, we partake more and more of the life of Jesus in area after area. If we are being sanctified, we will get light, for example, on the harshness of the tone of our voice when we speak to our family members, on our lack of love towards those we disagree with, on our seeking honour in our ministry, on our excessive talking and foolish jesting, and on the deadness of our preaching etc., etc.
And finally, the bondslave looks forward to partaking of God’s nature (eternal life) in all its fullness. That is the goal towards which every true bondslave of God presses on.
As slaves of God, we may have to go through many trials, misunderstandings and false accusations, on earth. But it will be worth it all when we see Jesus, if we endure in love, until the end.
Paul reminds us that as servants of the new covenant, we
“must give no cause for offense in anything, in order that the ministry be not discredited. But in everything, commending ourselves as bondslaves of God – in much endurance, in afflictions, in hardships, in distresses, in labours, in sleeplessness, in hunger, in purity, in patience, in kindness, in genuine love, by glory and dishonour, by evil report and good report, regarded as deceivers and yet true, as unknown (to men) yet well-known (to God), as poor yet making many rich, as having nothing yet possessing all things, with a heart that is opened wide to those whose hearts are narrow towards us”(2 Corinthians 6:3-11).
Subduing Our Bodies
In 1 Corinthians 9:27, Paul tells us one more secret of his life. He “treated his body roughly, training it TO DO WHAT IT SHOULD, AND NOT WHAT IT WANTS TO” (TLB). Otherwise he feared that after he had preached to others, he would be disqualified.
It is amazing to see that Paul had a fear that he might be disqualified even after all that he had done for the Lord.
There are healthy fears and there are unhealthy fears:
To fear that GOD MIGHT HURT US is an unhealthy fear. But to fear that WE MIGHT HURT GOD (by something we say or do) is a healthy fear.
In the same way, to fear that we might finally be disqualified, is a healthy fear that will keep us alert and “on our toes” at all times. It will enable us to subdue our bodies and make them our slaves.
God’s Word tells us to “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). That exhortation is especially necessary for preachers, because every preacher is in constant danger of becoming a hypocrite. He is in danger of preaching things that he has not yet practised. He is in danger of giving others an impression about himself that is not totally true, and he is in danger of spending more time preparing and perfecting his sermons than in perfecting his life!!
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:26that he had a very definite aim in what he was doing. He didn’t fight or run aimlessly. He ran towards a definite goal. He fired at a definite target.
I remember the days when we cadets were being taught to shoot with rifles in the military academy. We had to lie down on the ground, a few feet apart from each other, with rifles in our hands. Each of us had a target-board some yards in front of us, marked with a number of concentric circles, with a point in the centre called the “bull’s eye“.
When we first began shooting, our aim was highly inaccurate. Some of us would be hitting the next person’s target, and not our own!! After a while, we learnt to hit our own targets.
That’s how it often is with many Christians too. They hit other people’s targets and not their own. They are busybodies in other people’s matters. But if they work out their own salvation, they will gradually learn to hit their own target and finally hit the bull’s eye. Then their aim would have become perfect. Paul’s aim was perfect. He didn’t judge others. He judged himself and subdued his own body. And so he fought a good fight and finished his course (2 Timothy 4:7).
Our eyes and our tongue are the two members of our body that we need to discipline the most.
We invite unbelievers to give their hearts to Christ. But the Lord asks us to give Him our bodies (Romans 12:1) – and He asks especially for our eyesand our tongues. If we don’t give Him these, all the time, we cannot expect to be bondslaves or spokesmen of Christ, or to stand approved by God in the final day.
If we don’t keep our eyesunder control – at home, in the bus, on the road and in our place of work – we will find that even if we preach like angels, we will be disqualified by God in the final day. Many servants of God through the centuries have fallen because they were not careful with their eyes. They allowed their eyes to wander and look at pretty girls, and soon one thing led to another, and they fell into sin. It is not enough to say that we don’t lust after women. The Bible warns us not even to admire a woman’s BEAUTY, lest it bring us to spiritual poverty (Proverbs 6:25, 26). How careful we must be then.
We have to be careful in the same way with our tongues. God will not use the tongue of a man to preach His Word, if that man allows his tongue to be used by Satan at other times. The Lord told Jeremiah,
“If you separate the precious from the worthless (in your conversation), then You will become My spokesman”(Jeremiah 15:19).
We must never speak anything that does not come from a heart of goodness. That’s not easy to do, because we are so weak in this area. We have to be ruthless if we are to discipline our tongues.
I am sure there must have been many young people in our land whom God had called in past days to His service, whom He had planned to make His prophets in India. But they did not become prophets, because they were not careful to discipline their eyes and their tongues. They did not subdue their bodies.
We are called members of the Body of Christ, because that expresses an intimate, inwardrelationship with Christ the Head, just like our bodily members have with our brains in our physical bodies.
Jesus was faithful to keep every part of His body available exclusively for His Father (His Head). It is written in Romans 15:4 that He never pleased Himself. He never sought His own pleasure in the way he used His eyes or His tongue. He did not look at what He wanted to. Nor did He speak what he wanted to. He always sought to do what pleased His Father. Thus He presented His body without any blemish to His Father and became the perfect spokesman of His Father to the world (Hebrews 9:14). That is how we are to live too, as members of His spiritual Body now.
To be a wholehearted disciple of Jesus is to have a burning desire to present ourselves to God without any blemish.
If we want to build the church as the Body of Christ, we must gather together all those who are eager to present their bodies to God thus, and who are really keen to make their bodies their slaves.
Each time we miss the bull’s eye, we must mourn for our failure. We must mourn when our eyes are not absolutely pure. We must mourn when our tongues have spoken something that was not spoken in absolute goodness.
In Romans 7:23 Paul honestly admitted that he kept on seeing (present tense) a law in his bodily members (which was contrary to the law of Christ), that made him a prisoner to the law of sin. If Paul had referred to this in the past tense, as something he had once seen, it would have been a different matter. But he saw it and kept on seeing it day by day. In other words, he kept on getting light on the fact that nothing good dwelt in his flesh. And he kept on cleansing himself from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. Thus he kept his body subdued and remained faithful to God until the end of his life. That is why he was not disqualified, but finished his course with joy, unlike many preachers in our day.
Godliness – The True and the False
Under the old covenant, people were exhorted to meditate on “the LAW of the Lord” (Psalms 1:2). But under the new covenant, we are exhorted meditate on “the GLORY of the Lord” (2 Corinthians 3:18).
If we look only at the letter of God’s Word, we will become Pharisees, and we will build a church of Pharisees. But if we look at the glory of the life of Jesus, as we see it in the Word, we will be transformed increasingly into His likeness.
The secret of living a godly life (the Holy Spirit tells us in 1 Timothy 3:16), lies in seeing the example of Jesus, Who lived on earth with all the limitations of the flesh, and Who had no more resources than we can have – the power of the Holy Spirit, and Who yet lived in perfect purity in His spirit. If He could live like that, so can we.
“The one who says he abides in Him, ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.” (1 John 2:6).
We cannot blame the flesh any more for our sinning. For there was One Who walked this earth in the flesh and Who did not sin. He overcame through the power of God’s grace – and so can we.
The measure in which we ourselves follow Jesus in an overcoming life will determine the measure in which we can lead our fellow-believers also to walk as Jesus walked.
Immediately after speaking about the secret of godliness (in 1 Timothy 3:16), the Holy Spirit warns us about deceiving spirits who will come in the last days seeking to turn believers away from this way of godliness to a counterfeit way of becoming holy.
“The Spirit explicitly says that in the latter times, some will fall away from this faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits” (1 Timothy 4:1).
The primary mark of all deceiving spirits is that they “do not acknowledge that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh” (2 John 7). They will not acknowledge that Jesus overcame all sin in the flesh.
Through listening to such deceiving spirits, believers will finally be led to believe “doctrines of demons” (1 Timothy 4:2). Two examples of doctrines of demons are mentioned there: forbidding marriage and forbidding the eating of certain foods.
Celibacy and fasting have always been regarded among heathen religions as ways to become holy. But these demonic doctrines will find their way even into Christianity in the last days. We see that being fulfilled in our day. There are Christian groups today that teach that we can become more holy if we remain unmarried or if we fast regularly. Are these doctrines of demons? Yes. Because they turn our attention away from the secret of godliness to asceticism. Instead of following Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit, we then begin to seek after godliness through monastic self-discipline.
There is nothing wrong with remaining unmarried or with fasting. But when these are promoted as the secret of godliness, then the error is serious. In fact any doctrine that leads people away from “Christ manifest in the flesh as the secret of godliness” – is a doctrine of a demon. True holiness is attained, not by yoga or meditation or self-discipline, but by the power of the Holy Spirit.
In Colossians 2:20-23, Paul says that ascetic practices may have some external value, but they will not lead us to the Divine nature being manifest in our flesh. Only the Holy Spirit can produce that.
In the church, we must set people free from religious asceticism. Otherwise we will be proclaiming only a Christianized version of yoga.
The Devil is forever seeking to lead believers either to the one extreme of materialism, or to the opposite extreme of asceticism.
Materialism is not so dangerous, because it is obviously worldly even to a carnal believer. But asceticism is more dangerous, because it appears to be leading to godliness. Both these are cliffs that stand opposite to each other. But both lead to the bottom. Irreligious lovers of money and religious, self-disciplined Pharisees are both headed for hell. And as servants of God we must not forget that.
The Big and the Great in the World’s Eyes
In building the church, we must remember that
“everything that is big in the eyes of men is an abomination in God’s sight” (Luke 16:15).
We must never therefore bring human greatness into the church. When we preach God’s Word, we must not seek to impress people with our cleverness or our knowledge or our polished language. That would be demonstrating our soul-power in the church.
Our values in the church are the exact opposite of the values that worldly people have. Worldly people place a lot of value on money, whereas we place no value on it. Worldly people honour those who are great and influential in the world, but we don’t care for them at all. On the other hand, we value those who are humble and God-fearing. The world places a great value on being intelligent, whereas we care nothing for a man’s cleverness. The world and the church are not just slightlydifferent. They are facing in opposite directions.
To show off our cleverness or our greatness in the church is an abomination to God. It is the equivalent of offering a pig to God on the altar in the Old Testament. We must live in a healthy fear of bringing our human abominations into the service of God.
Being Like a Little Child
In Isaiah 11:6, we are told that during the 1000-year reign of Jesus on earth, when He returns, everything will be peaceful. There will be no wild animals, and life on earth will be simply wonderful.
But we have a foretaste of that life in the church already – because the kingdom of God has already come in the church. “Wolves” are already lying down with “lambs“, “leopards” and “goats” are at peace, and “cattle” are safe amidst the “lions” – in the fellowship of the church. In the world, people with such diverse personalities as these, cannot get along with each other. But in the church, they die to their Self-life, and live in glorious peace with each other.
And in this kingdom, Isaiah says that “a little child will be the leader” (Isaiah 11:6). Thus we see who is really fit to lead a church – the one who is most like a little child.
The real leader in a church is the one who is guileless and humble like a little child. It is easy to fellowship with such a brother. People develop confidence in such a brother – who is himself, who is not trying to impress others with his personality or his gifts, and who is not trying to imitate some other more mature brother.
In many Christian groups, leadership is given to those who are smart, talented and humorous, and who are good musicians and organizers. But in the new-covenant church, God appoints those who are like little children – for they are the greatest ones in His kingdom.
If the “wolves” in a church are tearing up the “lambs“, then the kingdom of God has not yet come to that church. And that must be because the leader is not like a child!! So it is the leaders who should judge themselves when things go wrong in a church.
Jesus told His disciples in Matthew 18:4 to humble themselves like little children, for a child is the greatest in the kingdom of God.
Now we know that the greatest person in God’s kingdom is Jesus Himself. So that must mean that Jesus humbled himself at all times like a little child.
There we have an example for all Christian leaders to follow.
We read on one occasion that Jesus healed multitudes of sick people, but told the people not to tell anyone about it. He didn’t want any publicity for Himself. That was in order to fulfil a Scripture that said that He “would not make his voice heard in the streets” (He would not advertise Himself) (Matthew 12:15-20).
That Scripture begins with these words “Behold my Child….” (Matthew 12:18 – margin). God is saying there, “Look carefully at My Child – the One who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven – He heals the sick and then disappears as though He has done nothing.“
In the church, the one with this spirit is the real leader.
A little child realises that he is a nobody, and that he knows almost nothing. And it is the realization that we are nobodies and that we know almost nothing of spiritual matters, that will keep us as little children always. It is only such a person whom God can attest as His representative in the church.
Jesus gave us only twoexamples to learn humilityfrom: Himself and little children. In the gospels, we can see how Jesus lived, and learn humility from His example. Around us, we can see little babies, and learn humility from them.
What are the thoughts that go through a little baby’s mind when it is lying in its cradle? Does he think how smart he is or how much others appreciate him etc. No. He has no such thoughts at all. He has no self consciousness whatsoever. He is just himself – natural, with no pretence or artificiality. That is our example.
Are we bothered with thoughts about what others think about us or our ministry? Then we are not like little children. We must battle these high thoughts until we are converted and become like little children. Only then will we be fully qualified to lead God’s people.
Then we will be happy with any small corner on this earth that God places us in, to do His work. And we won’t have any ambition to become great in the eyes of men. We will be happy to fulfil the task that God has entrusted us with in Christ’s Body. And we won’t be jealous of anyone else’s ministry either.
Praise God that we can experience as well as proclaim such a wonderful gospel – that we can unlearn all our corrupt “grown-up ways” and become like little children once again.
Thus we shall become true servants of the new covenant.
Dependence upon the Holy Spirit
“Cursed is the man who puts his trust in mortal man, and makes flesh his strength. He will be like a stunted shrub in the desert. But blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord and has made the Lord his hope and confidence. He will be like a tree planted along a riverbank that will go right on producing luscious fruit.”(Jeremiah 17:5-8 – TLB)
A servant of the new-covenant must live and serve God in total and utter dependence on Him for grace and power for every task. That is why prayer should be a vital part of his life – for prayer is the expression of our helpless, but confident dependence on his God.
A self-confident man will not pray except as a ritual. Christian leaders who do not pray are not dependent on God, because they are self-sufficient. And invariably they will be like barren trees, and their assemblies will be like deserts. The river spoken of in the above verse is the Holy Spirit. One who depends on the Lord alone for help will earnestly seek to be filled with the Holy Spirit constantly.
To keep the lamp burning continuously, the greatest need is a continuous supply of oil (verse 3). And for this, there were two olive trees planted on either side of the lampstand – symbolising the FRUIT and the GIFTS of the Holy Spirit, through which the church is built.
The angel then told Zechariah that God’s work would be done, not by human power, but by the power of the Holy Spirit, and that every mountain that stood in the way would be flattened (Zechariah 4:6, 7).
Every Mountain will be Flattened
In God’s work, we will face hindrances and obstacles of many types. We may wonder why God allows us to face such mountains, when we are wholeheartedly seeking to do His will alone. But God’s purpose is to exercise our faith, so that we can experience His mighty power reducing all those mountains to a plain.
We read of an occasion in the gospels, where Jesus urged His disciples to go across the lake of Galilee. They did not want to go, but he urged them to go (Matthew 14:22). When they obeyed Him, they ran into a fierce storm. If they had disobeyed Him, and not crossed the lake, they would not have faced that storm at all. But they would not have experienced the power of the Lord stilling the storm either. It is only when we face the storms that we can also know the power of God.
It is the disobedient and compromising Christian who has an easy way through life. But he never experiences the power of God either. The disciple of Jesus may go through “many afflictions”. But he also experiences the Lord “delivering him out of all of them” (Psalm 34:19).
God delights to see His people trust Him in the midst of gigantic problems that no man can solve. It is in such situations that we prove that we believe in an almighty God. Far too many of God’s people believe in a god of their own imagination who is unable to help them when they face man-made or demon-made storms or mountains. That is not the God of the Bible, but a god of their own making – an impotent idol of their imagination, no better than any heathen idol.
Is there any problem too big for our God? No. Then why do we fear when men or demons raise up mountains in our way?
When the Israelites heard of the size of the giants of Canaan, they began to think, “These giants are too big for OUR god to handle”. Who was their god? Not the God Who had delivered them from Egypt, but a powerless figment of their own imagination. No wonder God sentenced them to 38 years of wandering in the wilderness (Deuteronomy 2:14).
They were unbelieving – and their unbelief insulted God and tied His hands, so that He could do nothing for them. There are Christian leaders today also who tie God’s hands through their unbelief.
But God is looking for men like Joshua and Caleb, who will believe and proclaim that there is nothing impossible for God.
God is always on our side against Satan. And nothing can prevent Him from working for us, except our unbelief. Even if all the 5500 million people in the world and all the millions of Satan’s demons opposed us, they would not be able to hinder God’s purposes for us – if we trust in God. So we never get discouraged or give up – no matter what happens. Even if we die, we will die trusting in our Almighty God, believing that His Name will be glorified through our death!
When God allows us to face mountains – whether in the form of demons that wrestle with us, or hundreds of people who oppose us and accuse us – His purpose is that we might thereby become strong and wealthy. “If God be for us who can be against us” (Romans 8:31).
It is only when we face mountains and the opposition of demons and men, that Zechariah 4:6, 7 becomes more than just a wall-text hanging in our sitting-room. It gets written into our bloodstream!
But we have to be wholehearted and say, “Lord I really want to stand for You here, whatever the cost. Give me grace to stand for You, even if all my fellow-believers become lukewarm, and even if my wife opposes me. I am totally Yours. All I have is Yours. I am willing to spend all my life’s earnings also for Your work” Then we will find God continually flattening mountains in front of us, everywhere we go.
Let there be any number of giants in the land. Our God can handle all of them. He will “be an enemy to our enemies”, and “fight against those who fight with us” (Exodus 23:22; Isaiah 49:25). God has promised that “no weapon formed against us will prosper”, and that “He Himself will vindicate us” (Isaiah 54:17). So we never need to defend ourselves when falsely accused. We can remain silent, “entrusting our cause to Him Who judges righteously” (1 Peter 2:23). That is the dignity with which servants of the new covenant conduct themselves.
We depend on God utterly, knowing that He will never let us down. What He did for Jesus, Our Forerunner, He will do for us too.
Our own testimony, as we have laboured to build the Body of Christ in India, is that we have encountered many mountains during these past years – the opposition of men and demons, false accusations, malicious gossip, betrayal by “false brethren” (2 Corinthians 11:26), etc. We have never defended ourselves. We have always fallen down before God and said, “Lord, this is Your work, not ours. We are only Your servants. We believe that no man or demon can hinder what You are seeking to accomplish in our land. We command this mountain to be removed out of our way, in Jesus’ Name.”
Today, after 20 years, we can testify that God has removed EVERY SINGLE mountain that has stood in our way. He has been an enemy to our enemies and He has vindicated and attested us Himself. All glory be to His Name. We know He will do the same in the future too.
Casting Believers on the Lord
As servants of God, we must also lead believers to be dependent on the Holy Spirit and not on us. When they are babes, they may need our help in many matters. But once they have known the Lord for even a few months, we must cast them on the Lord alone for help.
God has ordained that children should be able to stand on their own legs just one year after they are born. It must be the same in our churches. Within one year after they are born again, believers should be learning to walk with the Lord, overcoming sin. By the time they are two years old, they should be steady on their feet.
God brought the Israelites also to Kadesh-Barnea just two years after they left Egypt, and told them to enter the promised land. But they disobeyed the Lord. Their failure is repeatedly held out in the New Testament as a warning for us (See 1 Corinthians 10 & Hebrews 2).
We should not allow believers to be dependent on us for finding God’s will for them. We must cast them on the Lord. Only thus will they grow. Under the new covenant, the promise of God is that, “they shall not teach everyone his brother saying, ‘Know the Lord’, for all shall know Me from the least to the greatest.” (Hebrews 8:11).
Jesus said that His sheep would hear His voice. They should not have to hear it always through us. Here is where most Christian leaders have failed God. They have led believers into an Old Testament type of life, where they are dependent on their leader to tell them what to do when they have to take a decision.
A new covenant servant of God leads believers to have a direct connection with Christ their Head. That is the only way we can build the church as Christ’s Body.
Concern for Building Christ’s Body
In Zechariah 4:9, we read that Zerubbabel (a type of the Lord Jesus) who laid the foundation for the temple, will also finish it. The Lord will not leave His work unfinished.
When the Lord lays hold of two disciples to build a pure testimony for His Name in a town, then He has already laid the foundation for His work there, in them. They must then ensure that there are no cracks in the foundation – no gaps between the two of them.
If they are faithful to build and preserve their fellowship with each other, the Lord will complete His work. He will build His church there.
If your heart is set on the Body of Christ being built in your town, you can be certain that God’s heart is set on it much more. Your concern for building the church is only a drop in the ocean compared to His. It is He Who put that burden like a seed into your heart. It is conceit to imagine that such a burden is your own. You can only water the seed that God Himself has planted. He will cause it to grow.
If you don’t consider the building of the church as God’s work first of all, you will wonder when you get into a tight spot, whether God will help you or not. You will then ask the Lord, like His disciples, “Do You not care that we are perishing?” (Mark 4:38).
It is pride – the pride that makes us think that WE are the ones who are building the Body of Christ – that makes us unbelieving. There is a close connection between pride and unbelief.
In Habakkuk 2:4, we read that the opposite of the man of faith, is not the man of unbelief, but the man of pride!! And in John 5:44, Jesus said that it was pride (seeking man’s honour) that prevented people from having faith. So we see that unbelief comes from pride. Proud people don’t need to depend on God. So they don’t have faith.
In exactly the same way there is a close connection between humility and faith. A humble man is one who has no dependence on himself. He depends on God alone.
No Confidence in Ourselves
Under the old covenant, the primary mark of an Israelite was circumcision. Anyone who was not circumcised was to be cut off from God’s people, for he had broken the Divine covenant (Genesis 17:14).
In the new covenant, the spiritual meaning of circumcision is explained as “having no confidence in ourselves” (Philippians 3:3).
It is the one who has no confidence in himself whom God upholds and whom God anoints continuously with His Spirit. There is a prophecy concerning Jesus that states, “Behold My Servant Whom I uphold ….I have put My Spirit upon Him” (Isaiah 42:1; see Matthew 12:18).
The anointing of the Holy Spirit is the prime essential for being a new covenant servant of God. And we see in this verse that God gives that anointing to those who are upheld by Him – that is, to those who are helplessly dependent on Him.
Faith in God cannot be exercised until we have become weak in ourselves. Otherwise our faith will be in the arm of flesh – which could be either our own cleverness, ability and money, or the resources of other people whom we know and whom we can depend on.
Let me illustrate: If a rich brother and a poor brother are both faced with a sudden financial need, who would have to trust in God more? Obviously the poor brother. The rich man has enough money. So he does not need to pray. But the poor brother, if he has faith, will cry out to God, and He will not be disappointed. It is when we don’t have human resources to fall back on that we learn to live by faith.
Even many so-called “full-time workers”, who claim to be “living by faith”, have fairly reliable human resources that they can depend on. They have brothers who can be depended on to send them money every month – just in case God lets them down!!
“Faith comes by hearing” (Romans 10:17). It is when we hear what God says that faith is born in our hearts. God speaks to us through the Scriptures and also through His Spirit. So, if we don’t listen to God, we won’t have faith. Our spiritual antennas must be attuned to listen to God the whole day, no matter what we are doing.
To listen to God ALWAYS is one of the most important requirements for a servant of God. Jesus lived every day listening to, and obeying the promptings of the Holy Spirit (See Isaiah 50:4). That proved that He had no confidence in Himself and knew that only the Father could show Him what things had eternal value and what things didn’t. We waste a lot of time doing things that have no eternal value, because we are in too much of a hurry to have time to listen to God.
God wants to teach us how to live by faith in Him. Four times the Bible says that “the righteous shall live by faith”. That does not refer to full-time workers, but to all believers. And so God arranges our circumstances such that we are compelled to turn to Him again and again for guidance. And if we are seeking for God’s best, He will gradually take away the human props that we have depended on for so long, and bring us to the place where we trust Him alone for all our needs – whether those needs be financial or physical or whatever.
In 2 Chronicles 16:12, we read that King Asa of Judah was sick. When a king is sick, he can afford to get the best physicians to treat him. Yet Asa died. Why? Because “even when his disease was severe, he did not seek the Lord, but depended on the doctors” (verse 12).
Now if a poor man in Israel had been sick, he would have had to seek the Lord, and the Lord could have healed him. It is when we are weak and our human resources are limited that we seek the Lord.
Faith is such an important factor in the Christian life that we are told that “without faith, it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6). That means even if we live in purity and goodness, and never backbite or gossip or cheat or tell lies, and even if we give all our money for God’s work, if we don’t live by faith (in helpless dependence on God and with no confidence in ourselves), we still won’t please Him.
As servants of the new covenant, it is faith that we are impart to others in the church – not just Bible-knowledge. We have to teach them from our own experience how to trust the Lord in all situations.
Soul-Power, Electronic-Power and Money-Power
Another thing that we must understand, as God’s servants, is the difference between our soul-power and the Holy Spirit’s power.
Peter once told the Lord, “You are the Christ the Son of the living God.” Jesus immediately replied saying, “Flesh and blood did not reveal that to you”. In other words, Peter did not discover that spiritual truth by his soul-power – his human cleverness or shrewdness.
Our soul (mind) cannot give us Divine revelation. If we are intelligent, we can get clever thoughts from the Bible. And we can share those thoughts with others in the church and impress the undiscerning. But clever human thoughts and Divine revelation are as different and as far apart from each other, as earth and heaven.
Paul preached with fear and trembling, because he was afraid of using his own cleverness in preaching God’s Word – lest the faith of others rest on his wisdom rather than on God’s power (1 Corinthians 2:1-5).
Humanly speaking, Paul was ideally suited to work among the Jews (since he knew their Scriptures), and Peter among the Gentiles. Yet God gave them exactly the opposite ministries (Galatians 2:8), so that they would depend on the Holy Spirit and not on their own abilities.
Clever thoughts are usually what we think of to preach to others to get their honour. Revelation, on the other hand, makes us fall on our faces before God. With our cleverness, we can impress people. But with Divine revelation we can help them.
When Isaiah got a revelation of God’s glory, he didn’t think of his vision as a point for his next sermon!! He fell down and worshipped God. The same thing happened to John on Patmos. It is only after both of them fell down before the Lord, that He told them to take His message to others. We must worship God before we can serve Him.
Soul-power is also seen in the ministry of those preachers, who, through hypnotic power, make people fall down, laugh hysterically and give their money to the preachers. People with psychosomatic illnesses (illnesses caused by wrong mental attitudes) are also “healed” at such meetings. All this is done by human soul-power, but using the Name of Jesus – and so even many believers are deceived. As servants of God we must be bold to expose these counterfeits.
Soul-power can also be seen in the way many Christian leaders dominate their followers and overwhelm them by their personalities. People stand in awe of such leaders and respect them as “holy men of God”. And these leaders love such admiration from their followers.
Music also has tremendous soul-power. It can stir our emotions. But we must not be deceived into thinking that that is the Holy Spirit’s power. We can draw many people to our churches with good music. But whom will we draw? Not the poor in spirit who are seeking for help to live a godly life, but the cultured and the sophisticated ones who are proud of their understanding and their musical tastes.
I remember, one Sunday, when a musically-gifted couple came to our meeting in Bangalore. They found the music to be below par, and so never came again. We were thankful for being preserved from people who were looking for a musical church and not a godly one!!
What we need in the church is not a good orchestra but the power of the Holy Spirit. Peter did not draw the crowds on the day of Pentecost with a keyboard and a drum-set, but with the anointing of God. It is when this anointing is gone, that believers seek to replace it with fine music, humorous sermons and grand buildings etc.
Electronic gadgets can also be a snare. Bible-teaching tapes by anointed servants of God can certainly help us in our spiritual growth. But we have to be careful that we don’t begin to depend on such tapes more than on the Holy Spirit, when we want to hear God speak to us. Even if we had tapes of the apostle Paul with us, we would not be able to build the Body of Christ with them!
Money is another thing that has tremendous power in the world. And we can easily lean on it. Almost every Christian organization today speaks of the need for money, and sends out newsletters and magazines to rake in the “almighty dollar” from simple and sincere (but gullible) believers in Western countries.
The apostles on the other hand, never once asked believers for money for themselves, or for their work. They urged believers only “to remember the poor” (Galatians 2:10) and to help those who were in need (2 Corinthians 8 & 9). But alas, what the apostles never spoke of even once, is spoken of all the time nowadays, in Christian work.
God says, “If I were hungry I would not tell you, for the world is Mine and all that it contains” (Psalm 50:12).
What about us as servants of this God? When we are in need – of food or of money – what do we do? Do we tell our heavenly Father or do we tell men? If we are truly called of God, we will never have any lack of earthly necessities. God has no lack of money. What He lacks is broken, humble, faithful and trusting servants.
God is looking for broken, humble people whom He can empower with His Holy Spirit and use to build the church.
God is a jealous God. He will not give His glory to another. He will not build the church with any power other than His power.
God’s work is done even today, as in days of old – not by soul-power or by electronic power or by financial might, but by the power of the Holy Spirit!
The Life and Ministry of Jesus
Whenever we think of the Spirit-filled life, we must look at the life and ministry of Jesus, for He is the clearest Example of a Spirit-filled man.
Which did Jesus have – the fruit or the gifts of the Spirit? The answer is “Both”. Let us also seek for both then.
The Holy Spirit will show us the glory of Jesus in the mirror of God’s Word, and then transform us into His likeness (2 Corinthians 3:18).
The Spirit will show us the life of Jesus first. For example, He will show us His perfect patience – how He never got irritated when people slapped Him and pulled out the hairs from His beard and accused Him falsely. The Spirit will show us how Jesus reacted to the different situations that he faced in His home and in His carpenter-shop. And if we submit to the Spirit, He will work that nature into us too.
God desires to work in us to will and do His good pleasure. But we must work out our own salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12, 13). And then we will see a transformation taking place in our lives gradually.
To partake of God’s nature is one thing. To try and manufacture it is quite another. We cannot manufacture God’s nature. When we want to partake of God’s nature, we have to come in brokenness, recognising our inability to produce it, and humbly receive it from the Holy Spirit. But alas, it takes a long time for many to realise that they cannot produce the Divine nature themselves.
If we feel that we have become patient today, because we were wholehearted and because we disciplined ourselves, then we are being deceived by Satan. That is how he will seek to puff us up in order to destroy us. If the patience we have is our own product, then it is a worthless human virtue – as worthless as human dung.
If on the other hand, we recognise that we received our patience from God, and that we did not produce it ourselves, it won’t be difficult for us to give God all the glory for what He has done in our lives.
So let us allow the Holy Spirit to show us the glory of Jesus and to transform us into the likeness of Christ in every area of our lives.
The Holy Spirit will also show us how Jesus served the Father. Jesus was anointed with the Spirit and equipped with supernatural gifts. He did not dare to serve the Father without being anointed first – as multitudes of believers are seeking to do, today.
It is written about Jesus that “God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power”. What was the result? “He went about DOING GOOD and HEALING (DELIVERING) ALL WHO WERE OPPRESSED BY THE DEVIL, for God was with Him.” (Acts 10:38).
The world around us is full of people who are suffering because Satan has oppressed and harassed and bound them in some way or the other. When God is with us, we will do what Jesus did – go around doing good to them and delivering them from Satan’s bondage. It is impossible to do that without being anointed with the Holy Spirit.
If Jesus Himself could not fulfil such a ministry without the anointing of the Spirit, how can we?
When we see the baptism and the gifts of the Spirit in the context of Jesus’ ministry, we can never go wrong. Jesus not only lived a holy life, He also had a ministry to others. He preached, healed the sick, cast out demons, and made disciples.
We can never serve God effectively as His servants in the church if we are not anointed as Jesus was.
There are many who study the Word carefully and preach it accurately, but they don’t have the anointing of the Holy Spirit upon them. Therefore their ministry is dry and dead.
As servants of the new covenant, our preaching must always be in the power of the Spirit. Jesus was never dull or boring or stale at any time when He preached – because He was anointed. When we are anointed as He was, we too will never be dull or boring or stale. Instead, our ministry will be a refreshing blessing to everyone.
When Jesus preached the Word to the disciples who were walking to Emmaus, they testified that their hearts “burned within them” (Luke 24:32). That is how a truly anointed ministry is – it makes people’s hearts burn. And that is how our ministry should be always.
There must never be a time when we’re not under the anointing of the Spirit. Then we will always have a word to give to those in need whom we come cross, even as Jesus had (See Isaiah 50:4).
In Acts 1:1, it says that the gospel of Luke describes “all that Jesus BEGAN to do and to teach.” So the Acts of the Apostles is a record of what Jesus CONTINUED to do and teach. In the gospels, we have the record of what Jesus did with His physical body. In the Acts we have the record of what He did with His spiritual Body. So the Acts of the Apostles is actually the acts of Jesus through the apostles.
Jesus is not engaged in some other ministry on earth today, than what He did when he came to earth 2000 years ago. He is still “going around doing good and delivering all who are oppressed by the devil” – through the members of His spiritual Body, the church.
And so it is an awesome responsibility that we have to be a servant of the Lord in His Body. Let us never take it lightly. If Jesus Who lived such a perfect life for 30 years needed to be anointed with the Holy Spirit before He began to serve the Father, how dare we engage in such a ministry without a similar anointing?
If we have not been anointed by the Spirit as yet, it must be because we have not sought for it sufficiently. And if we have not sought for it, it is probably because we have not valued it sufficiently. And if we have not valued it, it must be because we have been self-sufficient. Let us repent then of our self-sufficiency – and allow God to circumcise our hearts of all self-confidence.
The Anointing of the Holy Spirit
Brothers, let us seek God with all our hearts for the anointing of the Holy Spirit. We can never serve God or build the church without it. This is our greatest and our most desperate need. Let us never be satisfied with anything less than that baptism of fire that Jesus gave His apostles on the day of Pentecost. And let us mourn whenever this fire of God departs from our ministry.
The anointing of the Spirit is always given in relation to the needs of others. Jesus said in Luke 4:18, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to THE POOR. He has sent Me to proclaim release to THE CAPTIVES, and recovery of sight to THE BLIND, to set free THOSE WHO ARE DOWNTRODDEN.”
Notice here that the anointing of the Spirit is described as only meeting the needs of others – the poor, the captives, the blind and the downtrodden. It is not for meeting our own need. It is only when we have a burden and a concern for the poor and the downtrodden and the captives of Satan in our churches that God will anoint us.
Jesus once told a parable teaching us how we were to ask for the Holy Spirit’s power (Luke 11:5-13). A man had a visitor one night and found that he had no food in the house to give him. So he went to his neighbour’s house and kept on knocking until his neighbour got up from bed and gave him the food he wanted for his visitor. Jesus then went on to say that that was how we were to ask our heavenly Father for the power of the Holy Spirit (verse 13).
If we don’t have a concern for the needy people who come to our house (the church), we will not seek God for help to bless them and to set them free from their bondages.
When we see a brother being oppressed by Satan, what do we do? Do we just pray with him and send him away. Then we are unfit to represent the Lord Who came to set people free from Satan’s oppression. We should seek God for that which our brother needs. We should tell the Lord that we don’t have what it takes to help him, and ask Him for power to set him free. And we must persist in asking until we receive. Then we will receive. That is the application of the above parable.
None of us can have all the gifts of the Spirit, as Jesus had – for the Spirit distributes the gifts among all the members of the Body as He wills. Jesus Himself was the Body of Christ initially. So naturally He had all the gifts of the Spirit. But today the Body of Christ consists of many members to whom the gifts are given. The Spirit may not have given you the gift of teaching or of healing. That does not matter. He may have given you the gift of encouraging others. If so, exercise that gift faithfully, and allow others to exercise THEIR gifts.
Don’t attempt to be everything yourself – for you cannot.
There was only One Person Who could be everything Himself – and that was Jesus. Today we can be only one part of His Body. Therefore we can rejoice when we find that God has given younger brothers certain gifts that we ourselves don’t have. So they can do that part of the work of the Body better than we can. Praise the Lord!
Once we SEE the Body of Christ, we will never again be jealous of anyone. Instead, we will rejoice in the ministry God has given them.
God gives us grace to help people in one area, and God gives others grace to help them in other areas. So there will be sincere thankfulness to God in our hearts for every single brother and sister.
The weakest brothers and sisters in the church also have an essential ministry. In fact the weaker they are, the more likely they are to be dependent on the Holy Spirit.
We are effective servants of God only when we can bring forth the ministries of ALL the brothers and sisters in our local church. A Christian leader who does everything himself is a failure as a servant of God. This is unfortunately the condition of many pastors today.
The Right Balance
We have to be careful that our life is not a reaction to the extremes that we have seen in other groups in Christendom.
In the history of Christendom, there have been many groups that majored on holiness and despised the gifts of the Spirit – even to the extent of calling them demonic!! They have all failed to fulfil God’s highest purposes, as Jesus did.
At the opposite extreme, are groups that have majored on spiritual gifts alone, to such an extent that they have ignored personal holiness. Such groups have invariably gone astray, being deceived by religious spirits.
In the same way, there are some groups that major on an intellectual study of the Word. And at the opposite extreme are groups that major on emotional exuberance. But both groups seem to be ignorant of their soulishness. Intellectualism and emotionalism are both soulish. Neither of them constitutes true spirituality. The Holy Spirit leads God’s children to a life of obedience to God’s Word.
Whom shall we follow among all these groups? None of them.
We shall follow the perfect Example of our Lord, Who had both the fruit and the gifts of the Spirit, and Who obeyed the Word, instead of just studying it and getting excited over it! Then we won’t go wrong.
Let us “pursue love and earnestly desire spiritual gifts”, with all our hearts (1 Corinthians 14:1), and we shall then love everyone we meet, and deliver every Satan-oppressed soul who comes across our path.
Becoming a Blessing
The gifts of the Spirit are compared in 1 Corinthians 12 to the organs of the human body – the eye, the ear, the hands and the feet. We need eyes to see, ears to hear, hands to help others and feet to take us to different parts of this world. Even so, God has given us these gifts of the Spirit, so that a needy world around us can be blessed through them. He wants to give us power to free people from Satan’s grip over their lives and from their frustrations and their fears.
When God anoints our heads with His oil, our cups WILL overflow with blessing to others. And if we keep pouring our oil into the vessels of others, we will find like the widow found (in Elisha’s time – 2 Kings 4:1-7) that there is enough power and blessing in the anointing of God to help every single person who comes across our path. There wasn’t a single vessel that remained unfilled with oil that day in that poor widow’s house. Her whole neighbourhood was blessed through her. And our neighbourhood can be blessed in the same way too.
But we have to keep pouring out into the lives of others. That is a Divine law. If we selfishly keep God’s blessing for ourselves alone, it will begin to stink like the manna did, even if our blessing came from heaven (like the manna did) in the first place.
Proverbs 11:25 says that it is only the one who waters others who will himself also be watered by God.
Jesus became a curse for us on Calvary’s cross so that we might receive the blessing of Abraham – the promise of the Spirit (Galatians 3:13). The blessing of Abraham is described in Genesis 12:3 as “being a blessing to all the families of the earth”. This is what it means to be a servant of the new covenant : To be a blessing to EVERY family that we meet on the face of the earth. That is our birthright in Christ.
So, let us not “despise the day of small beginnings” (Zechariah 4:10). Maybe the Spirit will urge us to start by writing a letter of encouragement to just one person whom God lays on our hearts.
God may test our eagerness to serve Him by sending just one needy brother across our path – one hungry visitor. What will we do? Will we seek God for power to help that brother?
If we are unfaithful in such matters, we will miss everything that God has planned for us. To live under the anointing constantly, we must be faithful in the smallest of matters. It is through small actions that all mighty ministries begin. That is how the rivers of living water (that Jesus spoke of) began to flow from the sanctuary. It began as a trickle, but later on became a mighty river (See Ezekiel 47:1, 9).
May God help us all to be faithful in the little things.
Being a father to others
Paul said that even if there were countless teachers, there were not many fathers, in his time (1 Corinthians 4:15). This is true even today.
Every servant of God must strive to have the spirit of a father towards the brothers and sisters in the church.
It is easy to BECOME a father, but it is difficult to BE a father. A man can produce ten children without any difficulty. But to bring up those children to mature manhood is quite another matter.
It is the same in the church. To bring people to the new birth is relatively easy. But to present them perfect in Christ to the Father is far more difficult.
Our ambition should not be to have a large church but a pure one. It is no use having many people in our church, if they are not growing up to maturity and perfection.
What is the use boasting that we have many children if they are all retarded? If all our grown-up sons and daughters are still not toilet-trained but are still soiling their clothes, and haven’t learnt to walk, and are still drinking milk from feeding bottles, that is not something to be proud of.
But many churches are full of such overgrown babies. They have been believers for over 20 years. But they still have dirty thoughts, they still cannot walk in victory, and they are still drinking milk (they only know about the forgiveness of sins). The reason for such retardation is that their leaders are teachers and not fathers.
Fathers and Teachers
Paul told the Corinthians, as a spiritual father, “I do not write these things to shame you” (1 Corinthians 4:14). Teachers seek to humiliate their failing students and put them to shame publicly. But fathers are different. They cover every sin that their stumbling children commit, and continuously encourage them to a higher life.
It is far easier to be a teacher in an assembly than a father, for it costs a great deal of self-denial to carry the burdens of others on our hearts. Teachers can never build a family. They can only build classes. And many churches are schools, and not homes. Only a father can build a home and a family.
If our church is not like a family, what is the reason? It must be that we are teachers and not fathers. Do we look at the brothers and sisters in the church as students who need to be taught? Then we have the wrong spirit. If we are fathers, we will look at them as those who have to be borne with, and supported in a loving, caring and understanding way. It is good for us to judge ourselves and see what we really are – fathers or teachers.
It is no use blaming the brothers and sisters in the church saying that they are all carnal. Let us judge ourselves first.
A true spiritual father will not seek his own gain in anything, but always the welfare and the good of his spiritual children. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 12:14, 15, “I will not be a burden to you. I do not seek what is yours but you. Children are not responsible to save up for their parents, but parents for their children. I will most gladly spend and be expended for your souls”. Those are the words of a true father.
It cost Paul everything to be a father. He considered all that he had gained in life as rubbish compared to gaining Christ. He also considered it worth sacrificing everything in order to be a father to those whom he had brought to Christ.
A teacher works for pay. He does not seek the good of the students primarily, but his own gain. The gain we expect may not be money, but honour. Do we want to be respected and recognised as servants of God by others? Then we are seeking a salary – of honour – from them. Then we are teachers, not fathers.
Fathers expect nothing in return for all that they do for their children. Paul did not expect respect or even submission from others. He only sought their spiritual growth. What about us? Do we seek the good of the brothers and sisters in everything that we do?
The ‘pastor-system’ that we find in Christendom today was unheard of in the days of the apostles. It is this unScriptural system that has given rise to numerous teachers in Christendom – teachers who have to be paid a salary each month for the classes they take, and who make their students dependent on them for every major decision in life – whether it be marriage or employment or whatever.
The brothers and sisters in such churches never grow up. They remain spiritual babes forever, because this human system robs them of a direct connection with Christ their Head – which is their birthright under the new covenant.
How does a father care for his children? In a poor home, the father and mother will not even eat, if there is not enough food for the children. They will gladly deny themselves, and they will not even let their children know that they have not eaten, lest the children feel bad about it. A father hides his self denial from his children. Do we have such a spirit – that denies itself for the good of the brothers and sisters, and will not even let them know about it.
Another characteristic of a father is that he is eager to see his children advance beyond him in life – in education and in every other way. There are many fathers who have never studied beyond high school, who sacrifice so much to give a college-education to their children. They are happy to deny themselves the comforts of life for this purpose and they are delighted when their children graduate. No father is ever jealous to see his son advance beyond his status or his educational level in life.
That is how a true servant of God will be too. He will be delighted when younger brothers are wholehearted and get revelation from the Scriptures and are used by the Lord to be a blessing to others. He will sincerely long that they should advance beyond him spiritually, and be more useful in the Lord’s hands than he has ever been.
When we see younger brothers growing up in the church, without any folly being manifested in their lives, because of good leadership that protects them, we should rejoice that they can have such a blessing as we never had when we were young. There will not be even a shade of jealousy in us, if we are fathers. On the contrary, we will be delighted. We will rejoice that it is going well with them.
If we are jealous of a younger brother’s ministry or influence or spiritual advancement, we are certainly teachers, and not fathers. In a school, if a student can solve a problem that his teacher cannot solve, the teacher will be so angry and jealous, that he will seek to humiliate that student ever after in some way or the other. How do we feel as servants of God when someone points out a mistake in us?
Teachers can only build Babylon. Only fathers can build the true church – the New Jerusalem. We may understand and proclaim all the truths of the new covenant, and yet if we do this with the spirit of a teacher we will still build Babylon.
A teacher is very conscious of all the labour that he has invested in his students. He thinks of the honour he will receive if his students do well. He is always thinking of what he will gain, even when his students do well. A father however is quite different. He desires only the welfare of his children. He desires nothing for himself.
A teacher will criticise his students. A father however will encourage his children. If we keep on criticizing the brothers and sisters, we will accomplish little, even if everything we say is true. A father will accomplish much more by encouraging his children.
Only a father can continue to be kind to ungrateful and evil children. A teacher will give up on ungrateful students very quickly.
When we have problems with difficult brothers in the assembly, if we hope that they will leave the assembly, even if they destroy themselves, then it should be clear to us that our spirit is that of a teacher. A father can never wish that for any of his children.
Jesus told us to be merciful even as our heavenly Father is merciful and kind to ungrateful and evil people (Luke 6:35, 36).
As we pursue righteousness, we can very easily degenerate into Pharisees and teachers, if we don’t seek to be constantly and endlessly merciful.
A Father and an Older Brother
From the parable of the prodigal son, we can learn something of the depth of God’s love for those who backslide from him and even exploit His goodness towards them. There we learn so much about the Divine nature – and that is the nature that we are to partake of.
We see in that parable a striking contrast between the attitude of that wayward boy’s older brother and his father. That is the contrast between a teacher and a father too.
The older brother was an upright person. But he had no love or concern for his younger brother. He only found fault with him. That is how many Christian leaders are too. They are quick to lose their temper and to criticise and scold their brothers and sisters.
But look at the father in that story. What a different spirit he had. That is a picture of what God is like. And when we partake of God’s nature, we too will become like that. The older brother remembers all the evil that his younger brother has done, and delights in exposing it all. The father however, doesn’t even want to think of it.
To be converted from being an unbeliever to a believer is one thing. But if we are to be servants of the new covenant, we need a second conversion – from being “an older brother” to being “a father”, from being “Pharisee-like” to being “Christ-like”.
Is there a brother who has rebelled against your authority as a servant of God, and who has spoken a lot of evil against you, even though you have done him only good for many years? What is your attitude towards him now? Is it the attitude of a teacher or of a father?
We are not tested through the good and wholehearted brothers in the church as much as through the rebellious ones.
One or two rebellious brothers can show us our true spiritual condition more than a hundred spiritual brothers – because those difficult brothers have a way of bringing into the light, the lusts that are hidden in the nooks and corners of our flesh.
That is why we are exhorted “to give thanks for ALL men” – and not just for the wholehearted believers (1 Timothy 2:1). Everyone we come across helps towards our sanctification in some way or the other.
Here you are, living for years under the deception that you are a spiritual father. And then a difficult brother arises in your church. And in no time at all you discover, through your attitude towards him, that you are really a teacher and not a father!
That difficult brother enabled you to see your true condition in a way that all the wholehearted brothers in the church could not show you for so many years. Shouldn’t you be thankful for such a brother who saved you from deceiving yourself forever?
When we find it difficult to bear with brothers who rub us the wrong way, it is good to recognise that we ourselves must have caused inconveniences and problems for others in the same way too, without our even being aware of it. They too must have found it difficult to bear with us!
None of us are perfect. We all have a flesh. And everyone who has a flesh has to bear with others who have a similar flesh. Others who are more mature than us can see un-Christlike areas in our behaviour, which we, in all sincerity, are unable to see ourselves.
You may imagine that even though you have a difficult wife, you are still bearing with her and loving her and having no complaints against her. You may even be secretly congratulating yourself on your “Christ-like” behaviour. But you may not realise that your wife probably feels the same way about you! She may be feeling that she has a difficult husband to live with and bear with!!
And so it is good for us to dwell in low thoughts about ourselves always. It is good to recognise that we have faults that we cannot see.
The prodigal son’s behaviour brought out the goodness of his father’s heart in a remarkable way. If he had always been a good boy at home, he would never have seen his father’s tremendous goodness.
Whenever a similar problem crops up in our assembly (or in our home for that matter), with some brother (or family-member), we should think of it is an occasion when God wants to bring out His father-heart through us, towards that erring person – whether that person be a brother, or wife, or son, or daughter.
How disappointed God is in such situations, when we manifest the heart of a teacher instead.
Has someone taken your goods, and gone away, and ruined your name and the good name of your assembly by his conduct? What will you do, if he comes back repentant, one day? How are you going to receive him? Will you put him in the servant’s quarters for a few months on probation, to find out if his repentance is genuine?
Or will you rejoice like the prodigal’s father and run up to him and embrace him, and give him a warm welcome home? It all depends on what you are – a father or a teacher. A teacher may also receive a prodigal back, but it won’t be with a warm heart!
There’s joy in heaven over every soul who repents. If we cannot share in that joy, something is seriously wrong with us.
The older brother of the prodigal had the spirit of a teacher. He said to his father, “See how I’ve lived all these years. I’ve done nothing wrong. I’ve been wholehearted and zealous. I’ve been working for you faithfully. But see how this son of yours has behaved.”
A teacher is always comparing his own goodness and faithfulness with the failures of the carnal ones in the church. He is occupied more with the shortcomings of his brothers than with the riches of God’s grace. That was the primary characteristic of the Pharisees in Jesus’ day. All those who have the spirit of a teacher are Pharisees.
There was some truth in what the older brother of the prodigal said – that his younger brother had indeed “devoured his father’s wealth”. But who told him that the money had been “spent on harlots”? That was an assumption. And that is characteristic of a teacher. Whenever he is against anyone, he always assumes the worst and believes the worst about him. He also delights in exposing the sins of an offender to put him to shame.
When we accuse another, it is no use saying that our facts are 100% right? Our spirit can still be 100% wrong, because it is in fellowship with the Accuser of the brethren (Revelation 12:10).
When Satan accuses God’s children to Him, you can be certain that his facts are all 100% right. He wouldn’t dare tell lies to God. But his spirit is still the spirit of accusation.
That can be true of us too, if we are not careful. So let us not find any comfort in saying that we have carefully verified all the facts and found them to be true. Our spirit can still stink of Hell.
On the other hand, if we are fathers, we will cover the multitude of sins that a brother has committed, and rejoice that he has now repented. We will “kill the fattened calf and rejoice”. This is a great height to attain to. But we must press on until we reach there. Let us not deceive ourselves imagining that we have attained to it already.
Let us ask God for His grace to be true fathers to others.
David and Absalom
There was a time in David’s life, when his son Absalom schemed against him, and won the hearts of many of the Israelites and drove David from the throne.
But David still had a few friends who were first-class soldiers who wanted to fight and defend him. David knew that they were going to fight with Absalom. And so he said to his general Joab, “Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom” (2 Samuel 18:5).
We must have those words written in bold letters in front of our minds whenever we have to deal with difficult brothers in the church: “DEAL GENTLY WITH THAT PERSON – FOR THE LORD’S SAKE.”
Later, when David heard that Absalom had been killed, he wept and said, “O Absalom, I wish I had died in your place” (2 Samuel 18:33).
David was no teacher! He had a father-heart towards a rebellious son. No wonder he was called a man after God’s own heart.
God’s heart has the same desire: “I wish I could die in your place.” And that was why Jesus died in our place on Calvary. It is when we enter into fellowship with God’s heart that we become fathers.
Jesus had the right to rebuke sin in man, because He was willing to die to deliver man from sin. We have no right to rebuke sin in another until we are willing to die to deliver him from sin.
Then only are we true fathers. Otherwise we are only teachers.
He rebuked them for eating the fat of the sheep and clothing themselves with their wool. They had not strengthened the sickly, nor healed the diseased,nor bound up the wounded sheep. They had not gone out to bring back the scattered sheep, nor protected the sheep from wild animals. Instead they had ruled the sheep with force and severity. They were hirelings and not true shepherds.
Hirelings are like teachers. They seek their own and work for pay.
In contrast, we see in verses 11-16 how a true shepherd behaves. He cares for his sheep, feeds them, leads them to rest, seeks the lost sheep, brings back the backslidden ones, and strengthens the sick ones. A good shepherd even lays down his life for the sheep.
A spiritual father is such a shepherd to his flock.
This is our calling as servants of the new covenant.
We must not think of our ministry as consisting merely of preaching in the meetings. Maybe there is some discouraged brother somewhere who needs a visit and a word of encouragement. Someone else may need deliverance because he is being oppressed by Satan.
We have to look at all such people as lambs that have been captured by Satan the lion (1 Peter 5:8). Like David, we must go out against the lion, attack it, and deliver the lambs out of its mouth (1 Samuel 17:34, 35). That is how a true shepherd acts. When he comes across a difficult brother, he fights with Satan, and doesn’t criticise the brother. Thus he delivers the lamb from the lion’s mouth.
Haven’t we all seen fathers and mothers sitting up with their sick children, by their bedsides the whole night, caring for them?
Teachers have no time for such self-denying care. They will only tell their sick students to come back to school after they get well.
It is when we have spiritually sick brothers in our midst, that we discover whether we are actually fathers or teachers.
If you have a difficult wife, you will soon discover whether you are a shepherd-husband or a hireling-husband. If you had a spiritual wife however, you might never have discovered your true state!
God told the shepherds in Ezekiel’s time that Israel had gone to Babylon because of the failure of their shepherds.
Many of God’s people are dwelling in Babylon today, for the same reason: Their shepherds have failed them.
1 Timothy 3:1 says that if a man aspires to be an elder in a church, he is desiring a fine work. Yes, it is certainly a fine work to be a blessing and a help to others in the church, as a spiritual father.
May none of us however desire the title and the honour of being known as elders and servants of God.
May God help us to take this matter seriously.
Building the Church
The ultimate purpose of God in the new covenant is not to produce a number of Christ-like individuals, but to produce “ONE NEW MAN” – one Body in Christ (Ephesians 2:15, 16).
Under the old covenant, God raised up a Moses, an Elijah and a John the Baptist. They were all lone men who stood for God as witnesses in their generation. But the church was a mystery hidden from them all. Israel could become only a congregation of individuals, and not a body. In a body, all the members are inter-related, with each having a personal and inward connection with the head.
When Jesus, the mediator of the new covenant came, He sent out His disciples two by two. They were no longer to be lone witnesses unto Him. He also told them that His presence would be powerfully manifest wherever at least two of His disciples were united in His Name (Matthew 18:18-20) – because where two are united in Jesus’ Name, there is a representation of the Body of Christ.
As servants of the new covenant, we must never rest satisfied with individual brothers and sisters becoming godly. The local assembly itself must be a representation of the Body of Christ. Otherwise we have failed to fulfil God’s highest purpose.
The Presence of God
What is the primary mark of a new-covenant church? Many think that it is having a particular pattern of church government and a particular form of meeting. But it is neither of these. The important thing about the church is that it should have Divine life .
When a baby is being formed in its mother’s womb, in its early weeks it does not even have the shape (pattern) of a human being. It only has life. The shape (pattern) comes later. It is the same when a new church is being established anywhere. It will take time for the proper pattern to emerge. But meanwhile there must be life.
The primary mark of a new-covenant church is that God is present in its midst. When the church comes together, and everyone prophesies under the anointing of the Holy Spirit, those who come to the meeting should be convicted of their sins and acknowledge that God is present in the meeting (1 Corinthians 14:24, 25). That, and that alone proves that such a church has the right pattern.
If the presence of God is absent, we must confess that we have come short of God’s perfect plan – and we must repent.
Consider the tabernacle that the Israelites made in the wilderness. Its pattern was written down clearly in the book of Exodus. The Philistines could easily have made a similar tabernacle.
But there was one thing that they could never have reproduced – and that was God’s presence in the Most Holy Place, manifested as a fiery flame lighting up the tabernacle. That was the most important part of the tabernacle. It is the same with the church.
You may see a powerful church somewhere, and imagine that its secret is the pattern it follows in its meetings, or the doctrines it preaches!! And so you imitate that pattern, and preach the same doctrines, and imagine that you have a new-covenant church. But you are deceiving yourself. Without the glory of God being powerfully present in your midst, there is no new-covenant church there at all.
When God is powerfully present in our midst as a church, His light will continually show us what is pleasing to Him and what isn’t. That light will warn us of dangers that lie ahead. It will not only drive away the darkness, but the prince of darkness as well. The powers of Hell will never be able to prevail against such a church.
It is no use having only our doctrines right in the church. What we need more than anything else is the presence of God.
The Spirit of Prophecy
When God is present in our midst, we will hear Him speaking to us powerfully in the meetings. That is the meaning of prophecy.
In old covenant times, prophecy was meant for foretelling the future and for guiding people as to what they should do. But now, in the new covenant,prophecy is for exhortation (challenging, rebuking and correcting people), consolation (comforting and encouraging people) and edification (building up the church) (1 Corinthians 14:3).
Prophecy is the main gift of the Spirit by which the church is built. The prophetic word is “a lamp shining in a dark place” (2 Peter 1:19). Without this light constantly burning in the church, it will be impossible to escape the wiles of the prince of darkness. The church itself will sink into darkness. The main reason why many Christian groups that started out well degenerated over a period of time was because the gift of prophecy gradually disappeared.
Whenever God’s presence departed from Israel in Old Testament times, one mark of His forsaking them was that “there was no longer any prophet” among them (Psalm 74:1, 9).
Israel always degenerated whenever they did not have a prophet, as in the days of Eli (See 1 Samuel 3:1). But Israel rose into a place of eminence when they had a prophet, as in the days of Samuel (1 Samuel 3:20). It was through Samuel that David was anointed as the king of Israel. And that began a glorious new era in Israel’s history.
When Samuel prophesied, “the Lord did not allow any of his words to fall to the ground” (1 Samuel 3:19 – KJV).
We too must pray earnestly for such a powerful ministry of prophecy in the church that every word we speak goes straight home to people’s hearts like an arrow to its mark.
Through the gift of prophecy, “the secrets of people’s hearts are disclosed” (1 Corinthians 14:25). Thus everyone in the church will get light on the deceitfulness of sin.
We are commanded to “exhort one another daily (in the church), lest we be hardened through the DECEITFULNESS of sin” (Hebrews 3:13). There are sins that are obvious and there are sins that are subtle and hidden. But the spirit of prophecy will expose both the deceitfulness of sin as well as the schemes of Satan, so that we are protected.
We see an illustration of this in the Old Testament. When the king of Aram was warring against Israel, every time he and his generals planned in secret to attack Israel at a certain point, his plans were revealed to the king of Israel by Elisha, through prophecy (2 Kings 6:8-12). Thus the king of Israel knew exactly where to place his army to defend the country, and saved his nation again and again.
That is how the Lord, through prophecy in the church-meetings, warns us in advance of the areas where Satan is going to attack us in the coming days. So we can be on our guard in those areas.
Paul exhorted Timothy to fight the good fight (against Satan) by paying attention to the prophecies made concerning him (1 Timothy 1:18).
Again and again, we have found in the church in Bangalore, that the spirit of prophecy in our meetings has warned many brothers and sisters in advance of the points at which they were going to face the enemy’s attacks in the days that followed. Through the prophetic word, God has given wisdom to everyone of us in the church – wisdom for our personal life, for our family life, and for our church-life.
Proverbs 24:3, 4 says, “By WISDOM a house is built, and by KNOWLEDGE the rooms are filled with pleasant and precious riches”.
There is a place for knowledge in the church – God’s Word taught by anointed teachers. But knowledge is like the furniture, with which a house is furnished after it has been built by WISDOM.
So if we only have Bible-knowledge in our churches, we will be like a family living on an empty plot of ground with a lot of expensive furniture around us, but with no house – no walls, no roof and not even a floor!! That’s why we are exhorted in the New Testament to pursue after WISDOM first of all.”If anyone lacks wisdom let him ask God who gives liberally to all” (James 1:4).
It is through wisdom that the church is built. And God’s wisdom comes to the church through the gift of prophecy.
That is why we must “earnestly seek to prophesy” (1 Corinthians 14:1, 5), in every meeting of the church. Meetings for Bible-study and evangelism are good. But if we are to build the church as a pure testimony for Christ, then the gift of prophecy must be given the FIRST place.
The Pillar and Support of the Truth
In 1 Timothy 3:15, the church is called the pillar and support of the truth. God desires all men to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4). What is this truth that God wants all men to know? In John 8:32, Jesus said, “You shall know the truth and the truth will make you free.” Truth is that which sets people free from sin (John 8:34).
All bondage of every sort arises because we don’t know the truth. Cultists hold their followers in bondage by keeping them ignorant of the truth. The more we know of the truth, the more free we will become. The Spirit of the Lord brings liberty (2 Corinthians 3:17).
In John 16:13, Jesus told His disciples, “When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth.” The Holy Spirit is called “the Spirit of truth”, because He seeks to lead us into all the truth.
Truth is a vast land like the land of Canaan. And even as God led the Israelites to possess Canaan little by little, the Holy Spirit also desires to lead us to possess all of the truth. The more we know of the truth, the more we will be set free – from sin, from people’s opinions and from unScriptural religious traditions etc.
So when the Church is called “the pillar and support of the truth”, it means that the church must be a place where people come to hear the truth and are set more and more free. If people are not being liberated in our churches, we are failing in our ministry.
To set people free, we need the word of truth (God’s Word) and the Spirit of truth (the Holy Spirit). Jesus prayed to the Father saying, “Sanctify them in the truth. Thy word is truth” (John 17:17). God’s Word is the truth that sanctifies people. We cannot build the church if we don’t have God’s Word expounded regularly in the church in the power of the Holy Spirit. To be true servants of God and of the new covenant, we must become men of the Word and men of the Spirit.
For the church itself to be the pillar and support of the truth, there must be anointed brothers and sisters in the church who have become pillars themselves. In Revelation 3:12, the Lord tells us that if we overcome, He will make us pillars in His church. No-one other than Jesus Himself can make us pillars in the church. We can’t make ourselves pillars, nor can any servant of God appoint us as pillars.
But the Lord makes all overcomers – brothers and sisters – pillars in His church. Even a sister can be a pillar, if she is an overcomer.
We mustn’t forget however, that pillars are built to support a building’s weight. So when the Lord makes us pillars in His church, it will be to bear the burdens of others. Those who are selfish and unwilling to bear such burdens do not qualify to become pillars.
There are many brothers who not elders, but who are still pillars in the churches. If we are overcomers in our daily life, we can be pillars, even if we do not hold any position of leadership. It is God alone Who appoints and attests people as pillars in His church.
A servant of God must be one who speaks with spiritual authority. We read that Jesus taught with spiritual authority, unlike the scribes (Matthew 7:29). We cannot build the church if we don’t have spiritual authority. The scribes knew the doctrine, but they did not have spiritual authority in their ministry.
We can assert our authority over others by our age, our education, our Bible knowledge or our soul-power. But none of these are the basis for spiritual authority. We must be attested by God.
If we have spiritual authority, we won’t force our views on others. People will have confidence in us, because they recognize the authority of God in us. If we impose our authority on others just because we are in a position of leadership, then we have not understood spiritual authority at all. Our attitude towards others should be like that of Elihu who said, “No fear of me should terrify you, nor should my pressure weigh heavily on you.” (Job 33:7).
Do others feel any pressure from you in any area? Or do you give them perfect freedom to act according to their conscience?
When people recognise that we have Divine authority, they will come to us themselves, for advice. If they don’t consult us, it proves that they don’t have any confidence in us.
Consider an example: When our children are small, it is easy for us as fathers to impose our will on them and to compel them to consult us in their every decision. But when they grow up and set up their own homes, then we discover whether they really have confidence in us or not. If they do, they will consult us voluntarily.
That is how we know in the church also, whether others have confidence in us or not. Do they consult us voluntarily?
If they feel more free to go to a younger brother for advice, that would indicate that they have more confidence in him. There is no need to be jealous of such a brother. We should rejoice that God has a spiritual man in the church whom people can go to for help.
In Matthew 18:18, Jesus told His disciples of the authority that the church has to bind evil Satanic forces, and to set bound people free. This authority, He said, could never be exercised by one person, but only by a minimum of two people – and these two must be in total agreement in their spirits, for only then would the Lord be mightily present in their midst to give them His authority (Matthew 18:19, 20).
“Where two or three have gathered together in My Name, there I am in their midst” (Matthew 18:20) is one of the most misunderstood verses in the New Testament. That verse is not referring to any two or three people gathering together as Christians. No. It is referring to the authority of the church (see verses 15-18), exercised by two or three who have been gathered by the Holy Spirit, and who are united in spirit, for the glory of the Name of Jesus. Such a Body will have tremendous authority to bind Satan’s activities and to free God’s people from the grip of Satan. This is the authority that the elders of every church should be exercising constantly.
We cannot bind Satan or his demons themselves – as some ignorant believers seek to do – for God will do that only when Jesus returns (Revelation 20:1, 2; See Matthew 8:29 also). But we can bind (restrain) the activities of Satan and his demons (2 Thessalonians 2:7).
Satan knows about this authority that two or three leaders acting in perfect unison have. And so he will do his best to prevent the leaders in every church from coming to unity. If there is no unity at the leadership level, the Body of Christ can never be built.
It is not serious if two or three members in a church are not united. That is sad, but not as serious as the leaders not being one. Every church must have a core of two or three leaders who are totally one. The Lord is not looking for 200 or 300 who are united – but for just two or three in the leadership who are really one. There His authority will be powerfully present.
Warnings – Men Who Sought their Own
If God sees that we are building our own kingdom, or running a one-man show, He will just leave us alone. There are plenty of such one-man shows in Christendom today. They say they are doing “Christian work”. But it is done for personal profit – either to gain money or to gain honour. And so they are all building Babylon.
God cannot be fooled. He will never attest such preachers, even if they gather many followers. They may build old-covenant congregations, but they will not be able to build the new-covenant church.
In Acts 5:36, we read of a Theudas who gathered 400 people to follow him. A church having 400 members can look quite impressive. But “it came to nothing”. We also read of a Judas who drew many people after him. “He too perished” (Acts 5:37).
There have always been people like that in the history of Christendom. But to build the Body of Christ is quite a different matter. We may gather 400 people in our city. Yet we will be no better than Theudas, if we are seeking our own. God will never back us up. Spiritual authority is so tremendously valuable that God won’t give it to anyone and everyone.
Judas Iscariot must have got quite a reputation by being part of Jesus’ team! People respected Jesus so highly. And Judas must have got a share of that honour too. But it did not change his self-centred nature. He still perished.
In the same way, Demas was a co-worker of the apostle Paul. It must have been a great honour to be on Paul’s team. Many believers respected Paul highly, and Demas also got a share of that honour by being associated with Paul. But inside his heart he did not have Paul’s self-denying, sacrificial spirit. Demas mingled closely with godly, selfless brothers like Timothy. But he did not imbibe their spirit.
That happened in Jesus’ time and in Paul’s time. And it is happening even today. There are brothers who have got a reputation for themselves, not through their own life or ministry, but just by their being associated with some other godly brother whom God has mightily attested to.
If we are like that, our end can also be like that of Judas Iscariot and Demas. We cannot have Divine authority merely by being associated with some godly brother. It is when we have cleansed ourselves from seeking our own gain, our own name, our own comfort, our own convenience, and everything that is ours, that God will back us up. Then alone will we have spiritual authority to build the Body of Christ.
Do we seek to build God’s kingdom or our own kingdom? God sees our hearts. Paul once said that he did not have a single co-worker with him like Timothy. All were seeking their own, and not the things of Christ. Timothy alone was genuinely concerned about building the Body of Christ Philippians 2:19-21).
We would all like to have the authority that a man like Paul had. But to have that, we have to give up everything like he did, and consider it all as worthless rubbish (Philippians 3:7-9).
Jesus said to the Father, “All that is mine is Thine.” And so He could also add, “All that is Thine is Mine” (John 17:10). When all that is ours is freely given to God, then all that God has will also be freely given to us. In the measure that we give to Him, He gives to us. This is why many Christian leaders are so poverty-stricken when it comes to spiritual authority: They have not given their all to God.
In John 2:23-25, we read that even though many believed in Jesus, yet He did not commit Himself to them. We may also be among those to whom the Lord doesn’t commit Himself because He sees what is in us, and what our motives are.
If it comes to a choice between our profession and building the Body of Christ, which will we choose? Are we willing to give up advancement in our earthly occupation in order to have more time to build the church? If not, why should God commit Himself to us?
Are we willing to open our homes for the Lord’s people? Or are our convenience and our privacy more important to us? If we seek our own in any area, we won’t get spiritual authority from God, even if we fast and pray for it. God cannot be fooled.
Everything – yes everything – in our life must take second place to the kingdom of God, if we want to build the Body of Christ. There is no partiality with God. All of us are the same to Him. What He has done for others he will do for us. Jesus and Paul were mightily attested by God in their ministries, because they paid a price. God will do the same for us, if we are willing to pay the same price.
Even our money and our savings must belong to God if we are to build the church. When God told Noah to build the ark, Noah did not ask God as to who was going to pay for the expenses involved in building such a huge ship. If he had asked that question, God would have told him, “You have to pay for it yourself, Noah. Who else will pay for it?” But Noah did not need to ask, for he knew that already.
The question is whether we know it. Noah probably had to sell some of his own property in order to build the ark. But how many servants of God do we find who are willing to sell their personal property in order to finance God’s work? Those who do not give their all to God will discover that God does not give His all to them either.
With most servants of God, their attitude is that if it is the Lord’s work, the money for it must come from somewhere else, and not from their own pockets. They are lavish in spending the money that comes in through the offering-box. But they are not lavish in giving their own money for the work of God. A servant of God who is not freed from the grip of money in his life can never have spiritual authority.
Have we ever said to the Lord, “Lord, Your work is my work. And my savings are Yours. I won’t make a distinction between my money and Your money”? If we haven’t said that to the Lord (and meant it), then we are still under the old covenant, where they considered 10% of their money as belonging to God and 90% as belonging to themselves. Once they had given their 10%, their obligation was over.
But Jesus did not come to give only 10% of His income to the Father. He came to establish a new covenant and to build a new-covenant church. And so He gave 100% to His Father. And now He says to us, “Follow Me.” The only one who can have spiritual authority is the one who has given his ALL to God.
We must be willing to build the Body of Christ, whatever the cost to us – whether that cost be our money, our honour, our convenience, our physical energy, our reputation, our job, or anything else. There should be no limit to what we are willing to sacrifice for the Lord’s sake. We are not to seek our own convenience or our own comfort in anything. Everything we do must be related to building the Body of Christ. Even our earthly occupation must only be a means of earning our living, so that we don’t become a burden to others in the church for our financial support.
Let us then repent of our miserly attitude towards God.
May we be rich towards God in the coming days, so that we can have spiritual authority in our lives and build the Body of Christ in our land for the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
God needs men
God needs men today:
men who will stand before His face and hear His voice daily;
men who have no desire in their heart for anyone or anything other than God Himself;
men who fear God so greatly that they hate sin in every form and love righteousness and truth in all their ways;
men who have overcome anger and sexually sinful thoughts, and who would rather die than sin even in thought or attitude;
men whose daily life-style is one of taking up the cross and pressing on to perfection, and who are constantly working out their own salvation with fear and trembling;
men full of the Holy Spirit, who are so rooted and grounded in love that nothing can ever move them into an unloving attitude towards another human being, however great the provocation;
men who are so rooted and grounded in humility that neither human praise nor spiritual growth, neither a Divinely-endorsed ministry nor anything else will be able to make them lose the awareness of their being less than the least of all the saints;
men who have an understanding of God’s nature and purposes through His Word, and who tremble at that Word so that they will not disobey even the smallest commandment or neglect to teach it to others;
men who will proclaim the whole counsel of God and expose religious harlotry and unScriptural human traditions;
men who have the revelation of the Holy Spirit on the secret of godliness, on Christ having come in the flesh and opened a new and living way through the flesh;
men who are diligent and hardworking, but who also have a sense of humour, and who know how to relax and play with children and enjoy God’s good gifts in nature;
men who are not ascetics, but who at the same time live a disciplined life and who are not afraid of hardships;
men who have no interest in expensive clothing or sight-seeing and who will not waste their time in unprofitable activities or their money in unnecessary purchases;
men who have mastered their desire for fancy foods and who are not enslaved to music or sport or any other legitimate activity;
men who have been disciplined successfully by God in the fires of affliction, abuse, tribulation, false accusation, physical sickness, financial hardships and opposition from relatives and religious leaders;
men full of mercy, who can sympathise with the worst of sinners and the worst of believers, and have hope for them, because they consider themselves to be the foremost of all sinners;
men who are so deeply rooted in the security of the love of their Heavenly Father that they are never anxious about anything, or afraid of Satan or evil men or difficult situations or anything;
men who have entered into God’s rest, believing in the sovereign working of God in all matters for their best and who therefore give thanks always, for all men, for all things and in all circumstances;
men who find their joy in God alone and who are therefore full of the joy of the Lord, having overcome all bad moods;
men of living faith, who have no confidence in themselves or their natural abilities, but complete confidence in God as their unfailing Helper in all situations;
men who live, not by the promptings of their own reason, but by the leading of the Holy Spirit;
men who have been genuinely baptized in the Holy Spirit and fire by Christ Himself (and not just thrilled by some emotional counterfeit or convinced by some theological argument);
men who are living constantly under the anointing of the Holy Spirit, endowed with the supernatural gifts that He has given them;
men who have revelation on the church as the Body of Christ (and not a congregation or a denomination), and who give all their energies, their material wealth and spiritual gifts to build that church
men who have learnt to bridle their tongues through the help of the Holy Spirit and whose tongues are now aflame with the Divine Word;
men who have forsaken all, who are not attached anymore to money or material things, and who desire no gifts from others;
men who can trust God for all their earthly needs and who never hint about their material needs or boast about their labours, either in their conversation or through letters and reports;
men who are not stubborn, but gentle, and open to criticism and eager for correction from older and wiser brothers;
men who have no desire to dominate or advise others (although ready to give advice when asked for), and who have no longing to be considered as ‘elder’ brothers, or leaders, but who only desire to be ordinary brothers and servants of all;
men who are easy to get along with, and who are willing to be inconvenienced and taken advantage of by others;
men who will make no distinction between the millionaire and the beggar, the white-skinned and the dark-skinned, the intellectual and the idiot and the cultured and the barbarian, but who will treat them all alike;
men who can never be influenced by their wife, children, relatives, friends or other believers to cool off even slightly in their devotion to Christ or their obedience to God’s commandments;
men who can never be bribed to compromise, by any reward that Satan may offer (whether honour or money or whatever);
men who are fearless witnesses for Christ, fearing neither religious heads nor secular rulers;
men who desire to please no human being on the face of the earth, and who are willing to offend all men, if necessary, in order to please God alone;
men for whom God’s glory, God’s will and God’s kingdom always take priority over mere human need and their own comfort;
men who cannot be pressurised either by others or by their own reason into doing ‘dead works’ for God, but who are eager and content to do the revealed will of God for their lives alone;
men who have the discernment of the Spirit to distinguish between the soulish and the spiritual in Christian work;
men who look at things from a heavenly viewpoint and not an earthly one;
men who will refuse all earthly honours and titles offered them for their labours for God;
men who know how to pray without ceasing, and also how to fast and pray when needed;
men who have learnt to give generously, cheerfully, secretly and with wisdom;
men who are willing to be all things to all men, so that by all means they might save some;
men who have a longing to see others not only saved, but also made disciples of Christ, and brought to a knowledge of the truth and to obedience to all of God’s commandments;
men who have a longing to see a pure testimony established for God in every place;
men who have a burning passion to see Christ glorified in the church;
men who do not seek their own in any matter;
men with spiritual authority and spiritual dignity;
men who will stand ALONE for God in the world, if need be;
totally uncompromising men, like the apostles and prophets of old.
God’s work in the world suffers today, because such men are few in number.
Determine with all your heart that you will be such a man for God, in the midst of a sinful and adulterous generation and a compromising Christendom.
Since there is no partiality with God, it is possible for you too to be such a man, provided you yourself earnestly desire to be one.
Since God demands commitment and obedience only in the conscious area of one’s life, it is possible for you to be such a man, even though the conscious area of your life may be limited. (That area will keep increasing as you walk in the light and press on to perfection).
There is no excuse then why you cannot be such a man.
Since nothing good dwells in the flesh, we have to seek for grace from God to have the virtues listed above.
Cry out to God daily then, that He will give you grace to be such a man in these the closing days of the age.
He who has ears to hear, let him hear.
“Thus says the Lord, ‘I searched for a man among them….who would stand before Me'” (Ezekiel 22:30).
** Copyright – Zac Poonen (1995). This book has been copyrighted to prevent misuse. No part of it may be copied or printed or translated without written permission from the author. For further details, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or Christian Fellowship Church, 40, DaCosta Square, Wheeler Road Extension, Bangalore-560084, India.
Here are a few things that the Lord has taught me about remaining in constant fellowship with Him:
1. Continuous repentance: Sometimes it is easy to sin in my thought-life while I am working by judging someone; or pitying myself over circumstances in the past or present; or justifying my actions or words in a self-defensive manner; unforgiving attitudes; complaining; discontentment; etc. The Lord has spoken to my heart so many times to repent from these thoughts which only bring discouragement and self-righteousness.
2. Seeking to be anointed by the Holy Spirit every moment, always seeing my own need.
3. Worshipping God: I can worship my God in Spirit and in truth, for He is worthy of all glory!!(Revelation 4:10,11)
4. Loving God and loving others genuinely with the love of Christ.
5. Thanksgiving: Giving thanks to the Lord helps me count my blessings and see the goodness of God in all circumstances.
6. Praising God: This helps me acknowledge His presence with me, and trust in His love and power. (Psalm 28:7)
7. Joy: “In His presence there is fullness of joy” (Psalm 16:11), so living in His presence helps me rejoice in the Lord always!!
8. Listening to God’s promptings to pray for, encourage or help someone.
Nothing good dwells in my flesh (Romans 7:18), and, all my bright ideas and self-righteousness are like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). But God is working in me, giving me the desire and the power to do what pleases Him (Philippians 2:13).
So, let us press on to such a life of living constantly in His presence and abiding in Him, so that at the end of each day we may have our joy complete in Him.
“It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1).
Finally, here’s a secret I learned from brother Zac Poonen: Never settle for a defeated life thinking it’s normal just because most of the Christians around you are living the same way. If you seek for it, you will find the new living way.
By Pradha Chakravarthy at RLCF / Picture by Skitterphoto
It is a common mistake among believers to be taken up with one Scripture on a subject, to the exclusion of other Scriptures on the same subject. Satan tempted our Lord with the words “It is written …” (Matt. 4:6). But the Lord rejected the temptation by saying, “It is also written …” (Matt. 4:7). The whole purpose of God can be understood only when Scripture is compared with Scripture – when “It is written …” is read along with “It is also written …”. Consider the matter of “the great commission”.
Jesus commanded His disciples saying, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation” (Mk. 16:15). He also commanded them saying, “Go and make disciples of all nations…” (Matt. 28:19 NASB). These two commands are but two parts of ONE great commission. Only through a careful consideration of, and obedience to, both parts of this commission can we find and fulfil the whole will of God. The first step obviously is to go out and preach the gospel to everyone (Mk. 16:15). This command is not addressed to the individual believer, but to the whole body of Christ. It is humanly impossible for any single individual or any local church by itself to preach the gospel to every human being in the whole world. Each of us can, at best, have but a small part in this task.
But that part, however small it be, we must fulfil. Here is where Acts 1:8 comes into the picture. Each believer must have the Holy Spirit coming upon him and enduing him with power, if he is to be an effective witness for Christ. Note carefully, that all are not called to be evangelists (for Christ has given only some evangelists to His church – as Ephesians 4:11 makes clear), but all are called to be His witnesses.
An evangelist has a wider field of work than a witness. A witness has to proclaim Christ in the circle in which he moves and works – to relatives, neighbours, fellow workers in his office and to the others he comes across daily, to whom he may happen to be led to while travelling, etc. Here is where we can all be witnesses, whatever our earthly occupations may be. But Christ has also given evangelists to the church who have a wider ministry of reaching the lost. However, the evangelist’s task is NOT merely that of ‘winning souls’ or ‘bringing people to Christ’ (as we commonly hear), but ‘building up the body of Christ’ (as Eph. 4:11, 12 makes plain). Here is where the biggest failure of much of today’s evangelism lies. Most of today’s evangelism is related NOT to building up the body of Christ, but to saving individual souls. These souls are then usually sent back to their dead ‘churches’ where they soon get lost all over again, or at best, become lukewarm and fit for being spat out of the mouth of the Lord one day (Rev. 3:16).
Either way, they are not built into the body of Christ. Thus, only Satan’s purposes are accomplished – for the person has then become twofold a child of hell (Matt. 23:15) first, because he was lost to start with, and second, because he has now been deluded by some evangelist into thinking that he is saved, when he is still lost!! The only thing that is built up through such evangelism is the evangelist’s private empire. And the only reason for such evangelism is usually the evangelist’s desire to make money or to get the honour of men, or both!!
Jesus called evangelists ‘fishers of men’. But evangelism that is done in cooperation with unconverted “Christian” leaders and groups or with the sponsorship of vote-seeking political leaders is like fishing with a net full of holes. One cannot imagine Jesus inviting Annas, or Caiaphas, or Herod, or Pilate to sit with Him on the platform and inaugurate His evangelistic meetings! Yet many of today’s evangelists not only do that but also praise these unconverted leaders from their platforms.
Further, the fish that are caught in such “nets” are allowed to go back into the sea (dead “churches”), to be caught all over again at the next evangelistic meeting, only to be let back into the sea once more!! This process is repeated again and again by the many evangelists conducting interdenominational meetings these days, with each evangelist counting hands, decision cards, etc. Such evangelism brings joy, not to the angels of heaven but to the hosts of Satan! For, after all, how can angels rejoice over those who are made twofold the children of hell? Statistics in today’s evangelistic meetings are totally deceptive.
Even if signs and wonders accompany the proclamation of the message that Jesus forgives sins and heals diseases, the question that still remains is how many have been made disciples and built into the body of Christ through such evangelism. The apostles of our Lord never engaged in this type of evangelism. They placed their converts into local churches to be made into disciples and built up spiritually.
The five ministries mentioned in Ephesians 4:11 (apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers) are listed in their order of priority in 1 Corinthians 12:28. There we are told, “God has appointed in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then gifts of healing (that refers to evangelists, since all evangelists in New-Testament times had the gifts of healing), and then administrations (literally, ‘those who steer the ships’, referring to shepherds/pastors).”
This makes it clear that in God’s eyes, the ministries of the apostle, prophet and teacher are more important to the building up of the body of Christ than that of the evangelist. The evangelist can find his proper place in his ministry only as he takes his appointed place in subjection to the ministries of the apostle, the prophet and the teacher. Only then can his ministry serve to the building up of the body of Christ. Here is where 20th-century evangelism has gone astray from the Word of God.
**By Zac Poonen Copyright – Zac Poonen. No changes whatsoever are to be made to the content of the article without written permission from the author: cfcindia.com / Photo by Luis Quintero from Pexels
“[Nehemiah] would rather die than dishonor God’s name through disobedience!”
“We can all ‘leave Babylon’ in our hearts by refusing to be satisfied with a ‘salvation’ which consists only of personal blessings and deliverance from our enemies but requires no real sacrifice to us personally.”
“Those in Babylon are looking to see what they can get for themselves from God; Jerusalem is built by people who see how much they can give of themselves, on behalf of the church, to God.”
The salvation described in the Old Testament book of Esther is amazing:
God’s people experienced sovereign deliverance from their enemies’ evil plans; their enemies were defeated in dramatic fashion; they grew in wealth, fame, and influence. Sounds great, huh? We can read this story and gather tremendous hope at the power of God displayed on behalf of His people. It can make us wonder: is this an Old Testament picture of the Gospel?
Before answering that question, here’s one important fact to note: God was not willing to place Himself in the story of Esther. His name is never mentioned once in the entire book! In fact, Esther is the only book of the Bible where the name of God never appears even once. So with that information, what should we conclude? Is this the gospel? Are we willing to hope for all of the wonderful benefits that the Jews experienced in the book of Esther, if all that it costs us is God’s willingness to associate Himself with us? If all it costs us is knowingly experiencing the presence of God in our midst?
I hope not.
God was not willing to associate Himself with the story of Esther and Mordecai because they compromised in order to advance and protect their own lives. At the core of the story is a great sin: Esther married a heathen king. This was in direct disobedience to God’s command not to intermarry (Deut 7:3, Joshua 23:12). Intermarriage is the sin for which Solomon’s kingdom fell, and it is the sin for which Ezra so desperately mourned (1 Kings 11:1-4, 9-11, Ezra 9:1-3). And yet we find Israelites taking the command lightly once again when compromise appears to be a way to get ahead in the world.
This hopefully begs the question: Who was God with during this time period? The answer is that He was with Nehemiah and Ezra, and He was proud to associate with them. The difference with Nehemiah and Ezra is that they left the ease and comfort of Babylon as exiles to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple; and they did so at great cost to themselves and hazard to their very lives.
But even amidst such danger, having left the comforts of Babylon to rebuild the temple, they would not sin to protect themselves. Esther was willing to sin to get ahead; they would not sin even to save their lives. Just as one example, Nehemiah recounts a time when he was asked to disobey in order to save his life: “When I entered the house of Shemaiah…he said, “Let us meet together in the house of God, within the temple, and let us close the doors of the temple, for they are coming to kill you, and they are coming to kill you at night.” But I said, “Should a man like me flee? And could one such as I go into the temple to save his life? I will not go in.”” (Nehemiah 6:10-11) Nehemiah knew that it was forbidden him, not being a priest, to enter that part of the temple (Numbers 18:7), and his refusal to go with Shemaiah demonstrated how much more seriously he treated sin than even the threat of death. He would rather die than dishonor God’s name through disobedience!
There is a wonderful lesson to be learned from contrasting the story of Esther with Nehemiah and Ezra’s lives, for those of us who want to live out the fullness of the gospel under the New Covenant. In the New Testament we are also called to leave Babylon just as Nehemiah and Ezra were:
“I heard another voice from heaven, saying, “Come out of her (Babylon), my people, so that you will not participate in her sins and receive of her plagues;” Revelation 18:4 NASB
I love the way Isaiah prophesied this movement: “Put Babylon and all it represents far behind you–it is unclean to you. Get out of there and purify yourselves, you who carry home the sacred objects of the LORD.” Isaiah 52:11 NLT
When we who are in the New Covenant are commanded to come out of Babylon, spiritually speaking, we are called to prepare as the bride of Christ, to build the Church, which is the Temple in the new Jerusalem:
“And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them…’” Revelation 21:2 NASB
To be clear, in the New Covenant, “Babylon” is not a physical location so much as it is a system of belief. The call to “come out of Babylon” is not a call to move, or to change vocations, or anything like that. Rather, we can all “leave Babylon” in our hearts by refusing to be satisfied with a “salvation” which consists only of personal blessings and deliverance from our enemies but requires no real sacrifice to us personally; as we grow to see God’s ultimate desire is that we might pour out our lives to build the Body of Christ, and as we humble ourselves in obedience to that calling, we are on our way to the New Jerusalem. It is not a question of profession, but rather a question of our personal burden. The difference is simple: those in Babylon are looking to see what they can get for themselves from God; Jerusalem is built by people who see how much they can give of themselves, on behalf of the church, to God.
Just like Nehemiah and Ezra left lives of safety and comfort in Babylon, and gave their lives to build the temple in Jerusalem, we too are called out beyond contentment with the deliverance and blessings of wealth and fame that may be ours in Babylon. And just like Nehemiah refused to disobey God even to save his own life – far different from how Esther and Mordecai acted back in Babylon – we can choose to build the temple and hate sin even more than we hate the threat of death.
I’m not speaking of salvation – I am speaking of the fullness of the life and calling for us in the New Covenant of Jesus Christ! Those who stay in Babylon may be “saved” just as the Jews who stayed behind with Esther in Babylon were; but so long as we’re only satisfied with our own comfort and influence and fame, we are pursuing a salvation that in the end God will not associate His name with. But if we will seek to build the church, even in whatever small area or responsibility He gives to us, He will be with us.
It is important to note that in both Nehemiah (7:6-62) and Ezra (2:1-67, 8:1-14), detailed records are kept of the Jewish exiles that left captivity in Babylon and returned to Jerusalem; no such records are kept of those who remained behind in Babylon, in the book of Esther or otherwise. This should bring us immense comfort to know that, God will surely take note of us as we venture out beyond the safety of Babylon to build the church today. And even if He doesn’t, God’s presence made known and realized among us as we build the church is better than any other blessing we might receive in our “safe” lives in Babylon.
In Hebrews 10:5, we read that “God doesn’t want our offerings.” I quote this verse to people who have suffered under preachers who have kept on telling them that God wants their offerings. What does it say here that God desires from us? – Our bodies. Under the old covenant, the emphasis was, “Pay your tithes to the Levites.” In the New Testament the emphasis is, “Give your bodies to God” (Rom.12:1). A church that is constantly asking its people to pay their tithes is an old-covenant church. A new-covenant church will emphasise presenting our bodies -our eyes, our hands, our tongues, etc.,- as a living sacrifice to God. It is not material offerings that God desires from us today, but our bodies.
Giving our bodies to God is the new-covenant equivalent of the old-covenant tithe – just like Christ dying on the cross is the equivalent of the old-covenant lamb sacrificed on the Passover day. Does this mean that we don’t have to give any money now for the work of God on earth? You may certainly give, but God wants only what you give cheerfully (2 Cor.9:7). In any case, He wants your body first of all. Those who give Him their bodies usually give Him everything else as well. But everything must be given cheerfully and joyfully.
When Jesus came into the world, He did not come to give tithes and material offerings to His Father (Hebrews 10:5). He came to give His body as a sacrifice. And He is the Mediator of the new covenant and taught us that what God wants from us, primarily, is our body.
Many give offerings of money and service to God. You may boast that you have distributed hundreds of tracts, or served as a missionary in some difficult area for many years, or prayed for a number of hours, or fasted for many days. These are all good offerings. But those offerings don’t have any value to God, if you still lust sexually with your eyes and still get angry. Then you haven’t given Him what He wants first of all – your body. Then God will say to you, “Forget about giving Me your sacrifices and your offerings. Give Me your eyes and your tongue first of all. I want your body.” Don’t substitute material offerings for your body. People who value the material offerings they have given to God are back in the old covenant. In the new covenant what God wants is your body. The book of Hebrews is one of the most important books in the Bible. If you want to live in the new covenant, study Hebrews.
Jesus never had a body when He was in heaven. When He came into this world the Father gave Him a body. What was He to do with that body? Was He to show His love for His Father by going to some difficult place like Africa as a missionary? Or was He to pray for 4 hours every day and fast twice a week? None of these. He says, “I have come (to earth), to do Your will O God – and not to make sacrifices” (Hebrews 10:7). This is what Jesus used His body for- and this is what we have to use our bodies for, as well. When we present our bodies to God, it is to do His will thereafter with every part of them- with our eyes, hands, tongues, passions, desires, etc., our only passion in life thereafter will be to do the will of God every day.
**Copyright – Zac Poonen. No changes whatsoever are to be made to the content of the article without written permission from the author: cfcindia.com / photo by Cottonbro at pixels
Some believers consider God’s Word as having almost only one command – to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature (Mark. 16:15). This command must certainly be obeyed by the total body of Christ worldwide – particularly by those who are given by Christ as evangelists to the body (Eph. 4:11). But the work will still be unfinished, if this command of Christ is not balanced by His other command to go and make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:19).
We thank God for all those who, at much personal cost, have gone out into all the world and preached the gospel to those who have never heard the name of Jesus. But it is a sad fact of twentieth century evangelism that the threefold command of Matthew 28:19,20– to make disciples, to immerse them in water in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and to teach them obedience to all of Jesus’ commands – is almost totally ignored. When multitudes of believers are emphasising evangelism without making disciples, it becomes our task to restore the lost emphasis – to make disciples – and to complete the unfinished task.
Many think only of the unfinished task of various areas of the world yet to be reached with the gospel. God gives that burden to those who have that evangelistic calling. But to others God gives the equally important task – the more difficult task – of making these converts into disciples.
This can be illustrated by a carpentry shop engaged in making tables where multitudes of carpenters are busy making just the four legs and very few are employed in making the table tops to complete the tables. The result is that the shop is piled high with unfinished tables and the carpenters are still busy producing more half-finished jobs. We can be sure that Jesus, in the carpentry shop at Nazareth, always finished a table before moving on to the next one. He always believed in finishing a task begun (even as He cried, “It is finished”, on the cross) and He is the same today. We are co-workers with Him and must also believe in a finished job. All converts must be made into disciples.
In the Old Testament, it was impossible for God’s people, the Jews, to become one body. That became possible only after Jesus ascended up to heaven and poured out the Holy Spirit to indwell man. Now, two can become one. In the Old Testament, Israel was a congregation. The nation grew in size, but it was still a congregation. In the New Testament, however, the church is to be a body, not a congregation.
If two do not become one, then all that you have there is a congregation. The important thing in Christ’s body is not size but unity. And by this standard it becomes difficult to find a ‘church’ that is not a congregation. Everywhere one finds congregations that are increasing in size – but not in unity. Strife and jealousy and competition are found even at the leadership level.
God desires to have an expression of Christ’s body in different places all over the world. Babylonian Christianity cannot accomplish this. But God’s work still goes on through a remnant who realise that the mark of Jesus’ disciples is fervent love for one another and not largeness of number.
In the body of Christ, each person is valued, even if he is not gifted. He is valued because he is a member of the body. In fact, it says that God gives greater honour to the member who lacks gift so that there may be unity in the body (1 Cor. 12:24,25). In the church, we have to follow God’s example and honour even those who have no gift at all, if they are God fearing and humble. In Babylon, the gifted preacher, the gifted singer and the converted astronaut are honoured. But in the church (God’s tent), we honour those who fear the Lord (see Psa. 15:1,4).
Jesus said that we were to teach all Christians to obey all that He had taught (Matt. 28:20). God requires obedience more than sacrifice (1 Sam. 15:22). It is a heathen concept that God requires us to go through various forms of physical suffering in order to prove our love for Him. This is very prevalent in the heathen culture in India and has unfortunately pervaded Christianity in our country as well. Spirituality is therefore seen as giving up one’s job and going out to some difficult place, undergoing various hardships, etc. All this may involve much sacrifice, but it can never be a substitute for obedience to God’s Word.
Our love for Jesus is not proved by sacrifice but by obedience to His commandments – as Jesus Himself said in John. 14:15 to obey everything that Jesus has taught us in Matthew 5-7 is a far greater proof of our love for Him than even giving Him 50% of our salary or giving up our job and becoming a missionary.
Holiness is the characteristic of the true church (Jerusalem). So growth in Jerusalem is measured by growth in holiness – which includes love for one another. Jesus said that the way to life was narrow and that few would find it. Those who proclaim the narrow gate as narrow as Jesus made it will find that very few join their church (Matt. 7:13,14). If, on the other hand, we make the gate broader than Jesus made it, we shall increase in numbers easily. This is where much of today’s Christendom has gone astray. Jesus spoke about the narrow gate and the narrow way in the context of the ‘sermon on the mount’ (Matt. ch. 5-7). The content of those chapters is therefore what constitutes the narrow gate and the narrow way.
**By Zac Poonen Copyright – Zac Poonen. No changes whatsoever are to be made to the content of the article without written permission from the author: cfcindia.com / Picture by Ylanite Koppens at Pixels
The really good news is that, to start a house church, you can lay down the burdens of planning how to cope with buildings, programs, and outreach strategies. You don’t have to be an impressive leader (though you probably will have some leadership gifts). To start a house church, you simply need to open your home to friends and neighbours and take things one step at a time.
The first step to starting a house church is to pray. House-church ministry must be birthed in prayer. Though it is a simple step, without prayer and God’s leading, we invite trouble. Starting a house church cannot be just a good idea; it must be a God idea. If you feel that you are called to start a house church, gather a few like-minded people together and begin to pray so that you can receive a strategy from God. Many house churches have false starts that are directly linked to a lack of prayer.
Taking time to pray gives God the opportunity to work in our hearts and purify our motives. When house churches start up because of a reaction to something we don’t like about the established church, the house church’s identity is built from rebellion and discord. Healthy house churches, on the contrary, must begin with God’s leading and a desire to reach those who don’t know Jesus. What a person sows, the Bible teaches us, he also reaps. Therefore, if you begin a house church because of an offense toward an existing church or leader, you will sow the seeds of fault-finding and pride in the church you are creating.
Along with prayer, it is also important to look to the local Christian community’s leaders for spiritual guidance and advice as you launch a new church. From day one of the Lancaster Micro-Church Network, we have cultivated relationships with established believers in our local community and beyond to answer questions and explain to them the concept of micro-church. A wise Bible teacher once said, “Lone rangers get shot out of the saddle.” We agree. Healthy house-church movements are not exclusive groups who refuse to be accountable. Vibrant micro-church networks are spiritually connected to leadership in the Body of Christ.
Know Whom You Are Called to Reach
Every micro-church should know whom they are called to reach. Here’s a great suggestion from Tony and Felicity Dale, who together started a successful network of house churches in Texas:
Draw together people from your circle of influence. We had a number of business associates who were not Christian, but whom we had come to know pretty well over a period of months or years. We asked a dozen of them to join us in a study of business principles while enjoying pizza in our home, using the book of proverbs as our textbook.
There were no rules to our discussion; everybody’s opinion was valid and there was no such thing as a wrong answer. Gradually we introduced prayer and worship and over the course of a year, every one of them became a Christian. They formed the nucleus of our original house church.
When the first micro-church in the Lancaster Micro-Church Network started in our (Larry’s) home a few years ago, we asked God for pre-Christians or new believers to join us—we also asked for labourers to help in the endeavour. However, we ran into some immediate problems. First of all, lots of believers wanted to come and check it out. Some of these Christians were looking for the latest Christian fad. They liked the idea that the micro-church met on a Wednesday, not a Sunday, and that it met in a living room, not a sanctuary.
But we were not starting something new for the sake of starting something new! Since we had a mandate from the Lord to reach new believers, we asked inquiring Christians not to come to our meetings. Having too many older Christians in the group would make the pre-Christians feel uncomfortable.
Jim Petersen, in his book Church Without Walls, clearly describes what can happen if a “migratory flock from neighbouring churches” invades a new church simply because they are curious:
I have a friend who was a part of a team that set out to start a church. The congregation was divided into house churches, each of which was assigned an elder who helped shepherd the members of that house church. Centralised activities were kept at a minimum for the sake of keeping people free to minister to their families and unbelieving friends.
The weekly meetings were dynamic. I will never forget the first one I visited. People of all sorts were there, from men in business suits to ponytails. Many were new believers. The Bible teaching was down to earth, aimed at people’s needs. I loved it.
So did most everyone else who visited. The word got around and soon the migratory flock from neighbouring churches came pouring in. Their needs consumed the energies of the leaders of this young church. Their wants gradually set the agenda. The inertia of the traditions of these migrants engulfed this very creative effort and shaped it accordingly.
So what’s the problem, we ask? The problem is that the vision that original team had for taking the church into society through the efforts of every believer was frustrated.
My wife and I knew that the vision the Lord had given to us to reach a new generation had to be safeguarded in the early days of our new micro-church network, and the young leaders of our network wisely set clear perimeters. They asked God to bring pre-Christians, new believers, and labourers—and the Lord honoured their request.
The Size of the House Church Matters
Quite soon, my wife and I had a second problem in our home-based micro-church. The pre-Christians attending invited their friends, and within 6 months of starting, we had 50 people in our living room on a given night. It was way too large!
It is wise to keep the number of people to between 6 and 12. From my experience, groups less than 6 strong tend to dwindle and be lacklustre because of the decreased number of relationships and interactions possible. However, groups over 12 tend to lose intimacy and every-member participation. It is perhaps not surprising, then, that rapid church planting movements today reproduce small house churches numbering between 10 and 30 people.
Frequency of Meeting
House churches should meet at least once a week to maintain a sense of connectedness. Again, though, we must emphasise the importance of flexibility. Some micro-churches meet at the same location every week, while others move the meeting place by rotating turns in members’ houses. Some groups meet more frequently, others less often. Some house churches meet during the week, others on weekends.
It is crucial that meeting together is an expression of the members’ desire to build community together—not just a religious duty to add more meetings to their already busy lives. If gathering together is done around food and for the purpose of fellow-shipping, it is more natural. Choose times that are convenient for everyone involved and then make an effort to connect with the other members (even just by phone or e-mail) outside of official meeting times. Building a spiritual family takes more than an hour or two one night a week!
One thing is certain about house-church meetings: they should not be a smaller scale duplicate of a typical Sunday morning meeting. A house-church gathering should not look like an “escaped meeting captured by a living-room,” as one young man described house churches that do little more than replicate and repeat the traditional church service format: worship, teaching, prayer.
Instead, we have learned that there are often four basic components to a micro-church gathering: eating, meeting, small groups, and “the meeting after the meeting.
Although eating (usually a meal) is one of the elements of a house-church gathering, sometimes there may not be food. One week the house church may help someone trim their shrubs and have a time of prayer afterwards, and the next week they may come together for a whole smorgasbord of worship, prayer, teaching, and fellowship. Every week should be fresh and informal as people meet to discuss the life of Jesus and life with Jesus.
If you’re hoping to buy your own home, you’ll need this comprehensive guide to the costs involved in buying a house or flat and moving home. Always remember when you’re saving money for a deposit, you might need to stash away more than you think. There are lots of extra expenses involved in the home-buying and conveyancing process, from solicitor fees to removal costs.
Adding it all up, you can see that for a property costing just over £200,000 the average total of these fees would be around £3,000.
These costs will vary depending on the home you’re buying and other circumstances. Luck plays a role too, especially with surveys – if a major issue is discovered, you may have to start all over again.
On top of your deposit, you’ll need some extra cash ready for the following:
Surveyors – before you can get your mortgage, your lender will want to value the property, and you’ll need to pay or this. Valuation surveys tend to cost around £200 – £300. However, unless the home is a new build, you should also arrange your own survey to reduce the chance of nasty surprises later. A HomeBuyer’s Report can cost between £250 and £1,000 (depending on size of property) and a more detailed building survey can cost up to £1,500.
Mortgage fees – when you take out a mortgage, you’ll have to pay certain fees to the lender depending on the type of mortgage deal. Fees may be as low as a couple of hundred, but could run into a few thousand – so check with your mortgage adviser.
Mortgage term life insurance – if you have a partner, dependents, or a co-holder of the mortgage, it’s highly advisable to take out mortgage term life insurance. This means that if you die before the mortgage is paid off, the insurance will pay off the debt in full.
Conveyancing fees – the conveyancing process ensures your home purchase is fully legal and watertight, and is usually carried out by a solicitor. Fees for this are typically between £850 and £1,500. Your conveyancer should also conduct a range of ‘searches’ to prevent any unpleasant surprises like mine-shafts under your property – these searches cost around £300.
Stamp duty land tax – How much you pay is worked out through a tiered system. You pay 0 per cent on the first £125,000, 0.2 per cent on the next £125,000 – £250,000, and 5 per cent from £250,000 to £925,000, and the tier continues with more tax for properties over higher thresholds. N.B. stamp duty relief is available for first-time buyers, so you may have a lower bill or none at all.
Adding it all up, you can see that for a property costing just over £200,000 the average total of these fees would be around £3,000.
These costs will vary depending on the home you’re buying and other circumstances. Luck plays a role too, especially with surveys – if a major issue is discovered, you may have to start all over again.
Removal costs, furniture and decoration
Most people moving home use a removals company, which will cost between £500 and £1,000. If you’re a first-time buyer and don’t yet own much furniture it’s possible to do it yourself – but then of course you’ll want to buy some furniture! You can expect to spend around £2,000 on furnishings and an extra £1,000 on white goods such as fridge, washing machine and cooker – as a minimum. But you can save by buying second hand, looking at sites like Freecycle, and seeing if friends and family have items they no longer need.
Depending on the state of the property you’re buying, you may also need to factor in costs such as redecoration and/or home improvements too.
What about selling costs?
If you’re not a first-time buyer, you’ll also have to factor in the cost of selling your current home. The main one here is the estate agent’s fee, which comes directly out of the money your home fetches (usually between 0.5 per cent and 3 per cent).
You’ll need to shell out for your home’s EPC rating certificate upfront, which costs between £60 and £120. If you’re selling a second property (i.e. not your main residence) then you may also have to pay capital gains tax if its value has risen.
Can I put these costs on my mortgage?
The short answer to this is yes, you can add many of the costs of moving to your mortgage. However, in most cases you should resist the temptation to do so, as you’ll pay much more over time – and you can usually get better value finance deals elsewhere. Talk to your mortgage adviser to find out more about this.
Need help saving up a lump sum for buying a home? Then see our page on deposits.
**By Nick Green. Nick Green is a financial journalist writing for Unbiased.co.uk, the site that has helped over 10 million people find financial, business and legal advice. Nick has been writing professionally on money and business topics for over 15 years, and has previously written for leading accountancy firms PKF and BDO.