The Normal Christian Worker by Watchman Nee

“The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few; therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Luke 10:2).
“Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15)

THE NORMAL

CHRISTIAN WORKER


Watchman Nee

 

CONTENTS

Introduction

1. Diligent

2. Stable

3. A Lover of Men

4. A Good Listener

5. Restrained in Speech

6. Not Subjective

7. One Who Disciplines His Body

8. Having a Mind to Suffer

9. Faithful in Money Matters

10. Loyal to the Truth

 

INTRODUCTION

After “The Normal Christian Worker” was translated from Chinese, it was published by Church Book Room, Hong Kong, in 1965. The following lines introduced it to the reader:

“No book was in view when, in a series of messages, a servant of God (in 1948) gave spontaneous utterance to the burden that was on his heart. He was not addressing absentees; he was making a direct appeal to his close colleagues. Some of these, impressed by the value of the messages, desired to share them with fellow-Christians who had not the privilege of being present when they were spoken. Hence this book.”

“Though the messages are specifically addressed to those engaged in the work of the Lord, little is said about the work; the whole stress is on the character of the worker. A man of God is appealing for men who will be God’s true co-workers – not supermen, nor men who have a certain Christian status; but men according to the Christian norm, who through discipline have been brought into harmony with God’s own nature and can therefore meet His need in the world today.”

Now, as this Internet version sees the light, we can only pray that the mighty work of the “Divine Potter”, already done in the lives of so many of his workers through these pages, and through all of these forty years, will continue to multiply. This small book has proved to be a very effective tool in the hands of the Potter, i.e. in a number of editions and languages, to mold and shape the lives and the characters of his servants. The reader who is ready to expose himself to God’s drastic, yet tender, dealings, through these chapters, will find them to be the means of untold blessing, not only in him, but also through him (or her). Someone has said that God needs “workers”, not “shirkers”. That transformation, into true, reliable, faithful and useful workers, approved by God and needing not to be ashamed before Him, is what these ten chapters are all about.

In this (Internet) edition the NKJ Version of the Bible is used, except when otherwise indicated. (NKJV-copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.)

CHAPTER ONE  -  DILIGENT

Reading: Matt. 25:14-30; 2 Tim. 4:2; 2 Pet. 1:5-15; Jn. 5:17; 4:35.

The daily life of a Christian worker is intimately related to his work. For this reason, in considering the qualifications necessary for Christian service, we need to consider questions of disposition and conduct. To qualify for spiritual service a man must not only have a certain amount of spiritual experience, he must have a certain kind of character. A worker’s character must be suited to the character of the work, and the development of a man’s character does not take place in a day. If a worker is to possess those qualities that are necessary to make him of service to the Lord, then many practical matters relating to his daily life will have to come under review.

Old habits will have to be shed and new habits formed through a process of discipline, and fundamental adjustments will have to take place in the life to bring it into harmony with the work.

There are some young people who from the outset of their Christian life manifest qualities that give you confidence in expecting them to develop into useful servants of Christ; on the other hand there are those who, though not lacking in gift, before long fall by the way and bring dishonor on His name. You ask: How do you account for the widely differing development in the lives of Christian workers? Let me answer frankly that there are certain fundamental features in the constitution of every one of them that determine whether or not they are going to count for the Lord. A young man may display certain traits that seem to promise well for the future, but if certain other basic qualities are lacking he is sure to be a disappointment. He may have a real desire to serve the Lord, but he lacks the disposition of a true servant. We have never yet met a Christian worker who lacked self-control and was, nevertheless, a good worker; and we have never seen a disobedient person prove a useful servant of the Lord.

There are certain characteristics without which no one can be a satisfactory Christian worker, so a breaking-down and building-up process is necessary in order that the Lord may secure workmen who can meet His need.

The trouble with many a would-be worker is not ignorance, nor inability, it is that the man himself is wrong: there is something fundamentally lacking in his make-up. We must therefore humble ourselves before God and submit to the needful discipline if that which is lacking in our characters is to be made good. Let us spend a while before Him seeking to discover some of those qualities that are required in all who are to serve Him acceptably.

One of those qualities is diligence. It seems superfluous to say so, but it is in fact essential to say, and to say with emphasis, that a Christian worker must be a person who has a will to work. In Matthew’s gospel we read the story of the servants who were entrusted with five talents, two talents and one talent respectively. When, after a long absence, the lord of those servants returned and required them to render account of the trust, the servant who had received one talent said: “Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed. And I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the ground. Look, there you have what is yours. But his lord answered and said to him, you wicked and lazy servant, you knew that I reap where I have not sown, and gather where I have not scattered seed. So you ought to have deposited my money with the bankers, and at my coming I would have received back my own with interest. Therefore take the talent from him, and give it to him who has ten talents… And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness” (25:24-30). This passage of Scripture shows that the Lord requires every servant of His to be diligent in His service.

He clearly indicates the fundamental trouble in the life of the servant who is portrayed for us here. It was twofold: he was both “wicked” and “lazy”. His wickedness was manifest in that he dared to call his lord “a hard man.” We shall not dwell on this aspect of his character, but shall speak of the other, i.e. his sloth or laziness.

Sloth is not an uncommon failing. Slothful people never seek work, and if work comes their way, they seek to evade it. Sadly many Christians as well as non-Christians suffer from this complaint, and they are a drag on their associates. Have you ever known an effective Christian worker who was indolent? No, they are all diligent and always on the alert lest they squander time or strength. They are not always looking for an opportunity to rest, but rather seek to buy up every opportunity to serve the Lord.

Look at the Apostles. How diligent they were! Think of the colossal amount of work Paul accomplished in a lifetime. See him traveling from place to place, preaching the gospel wherever he goes, or reasoning intently with individuals; even when he is put in prison he is still buying up opportunities – preaching to all who come in contact with him and writing to those from whom he has been cut off. Read what he writes to Timothy from prison: “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season” (2 Tim. 4:2). Imprisonment might restrict Paul’s outward movements, but it could not limit the effectiveness of his ministry. What spiritual wealth he ministered through his prison epistles! There was not a shred of laziness about Paul; he was always taking time by the forelock.

Sadly many professed Christian workers do not trouble to go out in search of opportunities to serve the Lord; and if someone comes to them unsought, they look on this as an interruption instead of an opportunity and only hope the person will soon depart and cease to bother them. What do you call this? This is called sloth.

Have you never come across any “go-slow” workmen? They take in hand to do a piece of work, but they dawdle over it and drag it on and on as long as they can preserve any semblance of industry, for they are not seriously bent on working, but are simply bent on killing time. What is the trouble with them? The trouble is downright laziness.

In his letter to the Philippians Paul says: “For me to write the same things to you is not tedious, but for you it is safe” (3:1). Though Paul was a prisoner, he did not consider it a trouble to have to repeat the same thing in writing to the Philippians, because it was for their good. How unlike many Christians! If they are asked to do anything, they react as though a tremendous burden had been imposed on them. A person who regards everything as a burden cannot be a faithful servant of the Lord; he cannot even be a faithful servant of men.

Some so-called “full-time Christian workers” are so superspiritual that they see no need to work hard or to account to anyone for their work. If they were employed in an ordinary job no earthly master would let them off with such slackness as characterizes their work; yet they actually delude themselves into thinking they can serve God like that. Oh! our characters need to be disciplined till we cease to find work irksome and can delight in spending time and strength and material resource without stint in order to serve others. Paul not only poured himself out in spiritual ministry, he also knew what arduous manual labor was. Hear his own declaration: “Yes, you yourselves know that these hands have provided for my necessities, and for those who were with me” (Acts 20:34). Here is a true servant of the Lord.

Some so-called Christian workers actually have an aversion to work and can always produce an excuse for evading it; others lack the urge to look for work and just stand idly around waiting for something to turn up. Every faithful servant of Christ buys up the moments, and when he is not outwardly engaged he is inwardly active, waiting on the Lord in real heart-exercise. On one occasion our Lord said: “My Father has been working until now, and I have been working” (Jn. 5:17); and on another occasion He asked His disciples this pertinent question: “Do you not say, there are still four months and then comes the harvest?” And answering the question Himself, He added, “behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest” (Jn. 4:35). The disciples were prepared to wait four months before tackling the task, but our Lord said in effect that the time to work is now, not some future date. “Lift up your eyes and look,” He said, indicating the kind of workman He needed – one who does not stand waiting for the work to come to him, but one who has eyes to see the work that is already waiting to be done. Our Lord was ever on the watch to cooperate with the Father in whatever He was doing; and since the Father was continually active the Son was too. It is not the feverish activity of people whose restless dispositions keep them ever on the go that will meet the need, but the alertness of a diligent servant who has cultivated the upward gaze and can always see the Father’s work that is waiting for his cooperation. How tragic that so few people can see what God is doing today! It is tragically possible for us to pass the harvest-fields without so much as seeing the ripened grain. It is possible for the work to lie right at hand without our even being aware of it. Christians who lack an awareness of the urgency of the work and can comfortably wait “four months” before they tackle the task are “unprofitable servants”. Christ needs workers who jealously guard the passing moments and never put off till tomorrow what can be done today.

In some places there is no ingathering of the harvest for the simple reason that there are too many Christians who dislike work. Diligence is essential if we are to serve the Lord, but diligence is primarily an inward matter and is not measured by outward busyness. We dare not give way to constitutional indolence, so we must make it our business to cultivate a diligent disposition. However, merely to urge ourselves on to work a bit harder will be of no avail if we are lazy by nature, for after a bout of hard work we are sure to revert to type. It is a constitutional change we need. We are familiar with the words that the Lord came “to seek and to save that which was lost.” He did not just come to make contacts with men; He came to seek them out and to save them. With what diligence He sought and saved! It is that disposition we need.

In the first chapter of his second epistle Peter writes: “… giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness and to brotherly kindness love” (vv. 5-7). This adding and adding characterizes every diligent person. We must cultivate a disposition that never ceases to acquire fresh territory in the spiritual realm, for in this way we shall become servants who are profitable to the Lord.

Oh, we need to be intensely positive in His service! Some Christian workers seem almost devoid of any sense of responsibility; they do not realize the vastness of the field; they do not feel the urge to reach the uttermost ends of the earth with the gospel; they just do their little bit and hope for the best. If they have not seen a single soul saved today, they accept that as a matter of course and vaguely hope tomorrow’s results will be better; but if not a soul is saved tomorrow, they will just resign themselves again to the inevitable. How can the Lord’s purpose be attained through workmen of this sort?

Peter was made of different stuff. In the passage we have just quoted he earnestly seeks to arouse his readers from everything that would savor of passivity. Re-read the passage and note the divine energy that pulsates through his whole being and that he seeks to communicate to others through his epistle. He says in effect that as soon as you have acquired one Christian virtue you must straightway seek to supplement it with another; and having acquired another, you must seek for it a complementary quality. So you must press on, never resting content with what you have already attained, but ever adding and never ceasing to add until the goal is reached. To what purpose all this tireless effort? “If these things are yours and abound”, explains Peter, “you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 8).

Note that diligence rules out idleness. The negative state of idleness is answered by the positive state of diligence. Idleness cannot be dealt with negatively; it has its roots in laziness, and the cure for laziness is diligence. If we are always out of employment we shall have to take ourselves firmly in hand; we shall have to supply what we lack constitutionally. Having made good the first deficiency, we shall have to make good the second, and the third, and one by one every other lack until we are no more idle, “barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” If by divine enabling we do this, a transformation will take place in our characters. We shall cease to be loafers and shall become those who welcome hard work and are glad servants of the Lord.

Peter is tirelessly diligent in order to secure diligence in his readers. Note what he says in verse 15: “Moreover I will be careful to ensure that you always have a reminder of these things after my decease.” What strikes us here is not just an obvious, outward activity. It is an inward urgency, an urgency of spirit, that has begotten this unwearying effort in Peter.

Oh, that we might awaken to the weightiness of our responsibility, the urgency of the need around us, and the fleeting nature of time! If the seriousness of the situation presses upon us, we shall have no option but to work, even if we have to deprive ourselves of food and sleep to achieve the goal. Our time is almost gone; the need is still desperate; our solemn obligation is still undischarged. Let us, as dying men, give ourselves with all our powers to the dying around us. We dare not let natural sloth trick us into procrastination, but this very day we must arise and bid our bodies serve us. What is the use of saying that we are eager to serve the Lord if we do not rouse ourselves from our lethargy? And what will all our knowledge of the truth avail us if it does not save us from our innate indolence?

Let us return to the passage in Matt. 25 that we considered at the outset of our talk. In that parable we see a servant of the Lord facing two charges at the judgment-seat – the charge of “wickedness” and the charge of “laziness”.  The Lord Himself pronounces the judgment: “Cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness” (v.30). The Lord’s assessment of a lazy servant is “unprofitable”. Only a diligent servant is of use to him. Do not let us regard this matter lightly; let us take solemn warning and from this very day look to the Lord to enable us to reverse our sluggish habits. Since indolence is a confirmed habit that has been developed over the years, we cannot hope to correct it in a day or two, nor can we expect to remedy it by any soft treatment.

We shall have to deal with ourselves unsparingly before the Lord if we are to become workers who are not “unprofitable” in His service.

CHAPTER TWO  - STABLE

Reading: Matt. 16:13-23; 1 Pet. 2:5; Matt. 18:18; 26:31-41, 69-75; Mk. 14:54, 66-68.

Stability is another quality that must be found in the life of every Christian worker. Many Christians alas! are very changeable. Their moods change with the weather, so that at times they become the plaything of circumstance; consequently they are unreliable. Their intentions are good, but because they are emotionally unstable, they frequently lose their poise.

The Bible portrays for us a man of irresolute temperament who is known to us as Simon Peter. One day the Lord asked His disciples who people thought He was, to which they replied that some said He was John the Baptist, and some said He was Elijah, while others said He was Jeremiah or one of the prophets. Then He turned the question on them and asked, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter’s reply, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” brought forth this immediate response: “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church” (Matt. 16:13-18).

Note the declaration: “On this rock I will build my church.” The Lord seems to have in mind here the contrast He drew in the Sermon on the Mount between the wise man who built his house on the rock so that it resisted flood and tempest, and the foolish man who built his house on the sand, and under the same conditions it tottered to the ground. No matter what strain the Church may be subjected to, it can never collapse because it is firmly established on the Rock, Jesus Christ.

At a later date Peter wrote these words: “You also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house” (1 Pet. 2:5). The superstructure of the Church is of the same substance as the foundation; and just as stability characterizes the foundation, so stability characterizes the entire superstructure. Stability is a necessary trait in the character of every Christian worker, for every one is a “living stone”. Christ said to Peter: “You are Peter (Greek: petro, a stone), and on this rock (Gk. petra) I will build my church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” A stone in the building is not an immense mass of rock like the foundation; but though the foundation and superstructure differ in size, in substance they are the same. Each one who forms a part of the Church building may be small in measure, but in nature he does not differ in the slightest from the Church’s Head.

Note how the passage from which we have quoted continues: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” This promise made to Peter was later on made to the Church. (See Matt. 18:18.) It is obvious that Peter is addressed here as an individual, but it is in his capacity as a minister of Christ that the keys of the Kingdom are committed to him. He was entrusted with those keys so that he might function as an opener of doors, and he clearly functioned in that capacity at Pentecost and later in the house of Cornelius. In the first instance he opened the door of the Kingdom to the Jews and in the second instance to the Gentiles. But when the Lord Jesus addressed Peter at Caesarea Philippi his character did not correspond to his name, so he was unable at that time to make use of the keys of the Kingdom. However, when in the Lord’s grace he had been delivered from the instability that marked him then, and had become a minister of Christ who was firm as a rock, he was able to use the keys committed to him and could wield authority in binding and in loosing.

No one who is of an irresolute temperament can exercise a ministry of this nature. There must be a correspondence between the character of the minister and the character of the ministry. Both must bear the character of the Church against which the gates of Hades cannot prevail. Tragically, the gates of Hades do prevail over many Christian workers because they are always vacillating; for that reason they cannot be relied on in the work. Unless these erratic natures of ours are transformed, we shall be unable to function in the specific ministry committed to us; but, praise the Lord!, He has resource to transform our characters even as He transformed Peter’s. He can deal with every type of weakness that mars our lives and can so reconstitute us that we become suited to His purpose.

The Bible tells us it was by revelation that Peter was able to recognize Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God. He could never have made this marvelous discovery by himself, nor could any man have imparted such knowledge to him; it was God Who made this known to him. From the time of Peter’s confession Jesus began to tell the disciples something of the sufferings that lay immediately ahead of Him; and He told them plainly of His impending crucifixion and resurrection, whereupon “Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying: ‘Far be it from you Lord; this shall not happen to you!’ But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan!’” (Matt. 16:22-23).

Note the sudden swing of the pendulum. Peter, who has so recently attained sublime heights of spiritual experience, has already dropped to perilous depths. We have barely heard the Lord acknowledge that he has had a wonderful divine revelation then we hear Him say that he is a tool in the hands of Satan. At one moment Peter is declaring to the Lord, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”; at another moment he is actually rebuking Him. These two moments, so near in time, are poles apart in spiritual experience; and the self-same man who has been a vessel of divine revelation has, within a brief space of time, become an instrument in Satan’s hand to try and hinder the Lord from going to the Cross.

The Lord reacts immediately, and directly addressing Peter, to whom he had so recently said, “Blessed are you,” He says, “get behind me, Satan!” Only a short time has elapsed since He declared “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.” But how could a man, himself overcome by Satan, be used to build up the Church concerning which the Lord had affirmed that the gates of Hades could never prevail against it? If Peter is ever to be so used, then he must undergo a fundamental change. And that is exactly what happened. Let us look at the story as recorded in the twenty-sixth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel.

When the disciples were gathered around the Lord after the celebration of the passover He said to them: “All of you will be made to stumble because of me this night, for it is written, I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.” Peter, with his characteristic impulsiveness, protested immediately: “Even if all are made to stumble because of you, I will never be made to stumble.” Peter was clearly contradicting the Lord, but in so doing he was not just making a bravado: he was convinced that he was uttering the truth. It was because Peter so firmly believed in himself that the Lord reinforced His general statement regarding all the disciples and, addressing Peter directly so that he should be left in no doubt that he, Peter, was included in the number of those who would desert Him, He added details, describing the depths to which he would fall in his desertion of the Lord. But so deep-rooted was Peter’s self-confidence, that all the Lord’s assertions failed to convince him, and he protested more vehemently than ever: “Even if I have to die with you, I will not deny you!” Peter was not trying to deceive anyone: he meant every word he said. He loved the Lord and he wanted to follow Him unreservedly. When he spoke as he did he was expressing his heartfelt desire; but he mistook himself for the man he desired to be. Peter wanted to pay the utmost price to follow the Lord, but he was not the kind of man he thought he was; he had not got it in him to pay such a price.

A short time after Peter had made his repeated declarations that he would follow the Lord at all costs, the Lord said to him and to two other disciples He had taken apart with Him in the garden of Gethsemane: “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with me.” But all three fell fast asleep. Again He addressed Peter specifically and said: “What? Could you not watch with me one hour?” But He did not stop for Peter’s answer; He supplied it Himself  – “the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Yes, that was Peter. He was so willing, but he was so weak.

In a moment the scene has changed again. And Peter has changed with the changing circumstances. A great multitude have come to take Jesus, and Peter’s emotions are stirred. He stretches out his hand, draws his sword, and strikes off the ear of the high priest’s servant. Is not this proof of his readiness to die with his Lord? But wait a moment. Jesus is taken, and He is being carried off alone. Where is Peter? “Then all the disciples forsook Him and fled.” Peter has deserted his Lord.

Mark records: “But Peter followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest. And he sat with the servants and warmed himself at the fire” (14:54). Suddenly one of the high priest’s maids recognized him and exclaimed: “You also were with Jesus of Nazareth. But he denied it, saying, I neither know nor understand what you are saying” (vv. 67-69). Can this be Peter, who that very day had dared to cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant? Yes, this is Peter, now so overcome with fear when the high priest’s maid identifies him as one of the disciples, that he actually denies His Lord. A moment ago he wanted at all costs to follow Him, even if it meant giving up his life, but now he wants at all costs to preserve his life.

The great surge of emotion that swept over him then has already passed; and while Jesus is being put to shame in the judgment-hall Peter is seeking to evade any implication in His sufferings. So he moves out into the porch. There he overhears another servant saying to some of the bystanders, “This is one of them,” and immediately he is roused to a further denial. Matthew says: “But again he denied with an oath, I do not know the man” (26:72).

Soon afterwards some of those who were standing around came up to him and said: “Surely you also are one of them, for your speech betrays you. Then he began to curse and swear, saying, I do not know the man!” (vv.73-74). Is it possible that this is Peter, this man who has denied the Lord three times, and has denied Him with oaths and curses? Yes, this is Peter.

Peter’s trouble was not just superficial. There was a fundamental flaw in his character. He was governed by his emotions, and his conduct was always unpredictable, as the conduct of people is who are controlled by their feelings. The enthusiasm of such people carries them at times to the loftiest heights; at other times depression drives them into the depths. It is possible for such people to receive divine revelation, but it is also possible for them to put hindrances in the way of the divine purpose.

They are apt to speak and to act swiftly under the urge of a sudden impulse, but the impulse may not be a divine impulse. Many problems in the Lord’s work arise because of this radical defect in the lives of His servants; and because the trouble is radical, it calls for a radical correction.

Peter was a forthright character. He was not given to diplomacy and double dealings; but he had strong emotions, and he trusted in his emotions till the day of testing proved he was not the man of unswerving devotion to the Lord that his feelings had led him to believe.

Brothers and sisters, it is woefully possible that our fancied love for the Lord is little more than sentimental attachment. Our emotional reactions to His love are not necessarily so deep or so pure as we think. We feel we love Him utterly; but we live so much in the soul-realm that we think we are the kind of people we feel we are. We feel we want to live for Him alone and want to die for Him if He so wills; but if the Lord does not shatter our self-confidence as He shattered Peter’s, we shall go on being deceived by our feelings and our life will be one of endless fluctuations.

Peter did not deliberately tell a lie when he affirmed his devotion to the Lord; but his feelings tricked him into believing what was not true. It is a horrible thing to tell a lie; but it is a pitiful thing to believe a lie. If we continue to trust our feelings, the Lord may have to let us discover through serious breakdown the unreliability of our emotional life. The measure of our ability to follow the Lord is not assessed by the measure of our desire to follow Him.

Oh, that we might recognize the fact that the Church is an eternally stable structure! The foundation of the Church is a rock foundation, and every stone throughout the building is quarried from the same rock. If our characters have not been brought into correspondence with the character of the Church, how can we hope to have any part in its construction? If we seek to build with substandard material we shall endanger the whole structure.

Stone of other quality than the foundation will not stand the strain imposed upon it, so our attempts at building will only result in breakdown, and breakdown will mean loss to ourselves and others, and loss of precious time in the completion of the work. We do well to heed this word in 1 Cor. 15:58 – “Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord.”

Thank God, Peter was brought through breakdown to discover his own weakness, and his fall was deep enough to shatter his self-confidence. Have not our past failures been serious enough to convince us of our unreliability? We keep praying for light on our condition, but is not the knowledge of our past failures light enough to cause us to fall down before God in deep contrition and let Him remake us as He remade Peter? When Peter’s collapse showed him what kind of a person he was, he “went out and wept bitterly.” From that hour the Lord began to refashion him till his character corresponded to his new name, and he was able then to use the keys of the Kingdom with mighty effect.

We cannot expect to become outstanding instruments like Peter, but we trust the Lord will have mercy upon us and work a transformation in our lives such as He worked in his. A radical change needs to take place in our characters if we are to be Christian workers worthy of the name.

CHAPTER  THREE  - A LOVER OF MEN

Reading: Prov. 17:5; Mk. 10:45; Lk. 19:10; Jn. 10:10; Lk. 15.

Love of the brethren is a basic essential in the life of every Christian worker, but not less essential is love of all mankind. Solomon said: “He who mocks the poor reproaches his maker” (Prov. 17:5). God is the Creator of all men, and no person is fit to be His servant who dislikes or despises any one of them. Man has fallen, it is true, but fallen man has become the object of redeeming love; and the Lord Who redeemed man, Himself became man – a man like other men, gradually growing from infancy to full maturity. And when God had secured the Man of His desire in the person of His Son and had exalted Him to His own right hand, the Church was brought into being, “one new man” in Him.

When you really come to understand the Word of God, then you realize that the term “children of God” is not so weighty as the term “man”, and you realize also that divine choice and divine election had as their objective a glorified corporate man. When you see the place man occupies in the purpose of God; when you see man as the focus of all His thoughts; when you see how the Lord humbled Himself to become man; you then learn to appreciate all mankind.

When our Lord was on earth He said: “For even the Son of man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mk. 10:45). He did not say that the Son of God came to serve men; He did say “the Son of man came.” Here we see the Lord’s attitude to man.

A serious trouble with many who are engaged in Christian work is their lack of love for man, their lack of esteem for man, their failure to realize the value of man in God’s sight. Today we feel we have attained great heights if we have begun to love God’s children. But is that enough? Oh! we need to be enlarged; we need to see that our love must embrace all men; we need to see that all men are precious to God. No doubt you are interested in a few particularly intelligent people, a few who in one way or another are outstanding; but what I want to know is not if you are interested in men of unusual measure, but if you are interested in MAN.

This question is one of great importance. The phrase “the Son of man came” implies in the first place that the Lord was intensely interested in man; He was so interested that He Himself became man. To what extent are you interested? Perhaps you think, Oh! So-and-So isn’t of much account, or, There’s nothing much to such-and-such an individual. But how did our Lord look on those people? He came into the midst of men as Son of man.

He so prized man that He became man, that He might to the fullest extent serve men. It is an amazing thing, a grievous thing, that many of God’s children have little concern for men. Brothers and sisters, do you know the meaning of this word, “the Son of man came”? It means that Christ cared for all mankind. What an abnormal state of affairs it is if we are only interested in a select few!

Interest in the human race is a basic requirement of every Christian worker, not interest in a certain section of it. “God so loved the world.” His love included all men, and so should ours. We must not confine our interest to His children, or to any other particular class of men, but must go out in love to all.

Years of instruction have accustomed us to talk of certain men as our “brethren” and of all men as our “fellow-men”, and perhaps we have begun to appreciate the fact that some men are truly our brethren; but do we appreciate this other fact that all men are our fellows?

Sadly, many who profess to be the Lord’s servants have never opened their hearts to all their fellows. If only it registered deeply with us that God is our Creator and we are all fellow-creatures, how could we take advantage of others in any way? If in association with our fellow-men we seek our own interests, our work will be of very limited value in the sight of God, however great its outward extent.

“For even the Son of man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mk. 10:45). “For the Son of man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Lk. 19:10). “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (Jn. 10:10). It was for man the Lord Jesus came to the earth, and He came for the specific purpose of serving men. It was His consuming interest in man that brought Him from heaven to earth to minister to men even to the pouring out of His life for their ransom. The motive power was a passionate love for men. His ministry to men was the outcome of His love for men; and because His love was boundless, He could serve even to death on the Cross.

If you try to preach the gospel to the unsaved, but have never been touched by the words “God created man”, so that you approach men as your fellows; if you have never had more than a casual interest in men; then you are unfit to preach Christ as “a ransom for many”. It needs to dawn on us that God created man in His likeness and set His love on man because man was exceedingly precious to Him. Unless man becomes the object of our affection we cannot possibly become a servant of men.

Many Christian workers have an altogether wrong attitude to their fellows. They consider them a burden, and sometimes they take offense at their doings and cannot even forgive them. How can we, who ourselves are sinners by nature, hesitate to forgive sinners? How can we fail to understand their weaknesses and shortcomings? And how can we but hold them dear when we know their worth to the Lord? He, the Good Shepherd, could forsake all and go out to seek one lost sheep; the Holy Spirit could search for one lost coin; and the Father could go out to welcome back one lost son. In the parable of Luke fifteen we see that the divine love could spend itself freely to redeem even one soul. Can we fail to see the intensity of God’s love for man?

Brothers and sisters, in the light of God’s passionate concern for man, can you still regard your fellows with indifference? We shall be worthless in His service unless our hearts are enlarged and our horizon is widened. We need to see the value God has set on man; we need to see the place of man in God’s eternal purpose; we need to see the meaning of Christ’s redemptive work. Without that, it is vain to imagine that puny creatures such as you and I can ever have a share in the great work of God.

How can anyone be used to save souls who does not love souls? If only this fundamental trouble of our lack of love for men can be solved, our many other difficulties in relation to men will vanish. We think some people are too ignorant and we think others are too hard, but these problems will cease to exist when our basic problem of lack of love for men has been dealt with. When we cease to stand on a pedestal and learn to take our place as men among fellow-men, then we shall no longer disdain any.

Some Christian workers who have been brought up in urban areas go out into the country among farming folk and adopt a superior attitude to them. How different from the Son of Man who came to be a servant of all! If you go anywhere to preach the gospel and do not go as a son of man, you will fail in your mission. If you work among others in a condescending attitude, do not deceive yourself into mistaking condescension for Christ-like humility. Conscious condescension is counterfeit humility; genuine humility is unconscious. When Christ came into the midst of men He came as a real man. He lived as man in the midst of fellow-men. Many Christian workers, as they move among their fellows, convey the impression that they are doing others a favor by associating with them.

Our demeanor should never make others feel that we are different from them. Unless we can be as sons of men among men, we shall neither be true servants of men, nor true servants of God. God’s workmen must be so emptied of self that they are unconsciously humble. An ignorant, unsaved man differs from you and me in no other respect than this, that we are saved and he is not. He has a place in God’s creative purpose just as you and I have; he has a place in God’s redemptive purpose just as you and I have; and he has a potentiality for God just as you and I.

Perhaps you say, the ignorance of others presents no problem to me; my difficulty arises when I come in contact with deceitful people and people of loose morals. What should be my attitude to them? You only need to take a retrospective look at your own life. Where were you when the grace of God found you out? And where would you be today but for the grace of God? If in any respect you are other than they, it is wholly a matter of His grace. Think what the grace of God has done for you. As you behold His grace you will have to bow before Him and say: “By nature I am as sinful as they, but I am a sinner saved by grace.” A contemplation of what the grace of God has done for us will never exalt us; it will always cause us to bow low before Him. If you are different from others, “who makes you differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast, as if you had not received it?” (1 Cor. 4:7). The sight of sin should cause us to recoil, but we should still go out in love to the sinner.

While we bear in mind that every servant of God has his own special function, we should not forget that, however different their functions may be, all true servants of God are alike in this respect that they are interested, intensely interested, in men. If you are not attracted to sinners, but even want to shun them, what do you hope to accomplish by preaching the gospel to them? Does a doctor shrink back from sick patients? If we seek the lost because we have come to see the preciousness to God of every single soul, then we shall move out to them, not under the compulsion of duty, but under the constraint of an irresistible attraction. When we approach them in the spontaneity of love, we shall find that a limitless field of service will open up to us, and in the mercy of God we shall become servants who are of some account to Him.

Oh, that we might see every human being as a living soul with an immense potentiality! How differently we have felt toward the saved since we realized we are “fellow-citizens with the saints”! And we shall feel a similar difference toward the unsaved when the divine light breaks upon us and we truly see each one as a fellow-man. We shall value them then and love them, and we shall come into harmony with the Lord in His desire to win them to Himself that they may be material in His hand for the building of His Church. If you or I despise any soul of man, we are unworthy to be in the service of the Son of Man, for His workmen are servants of men who count it their joy to minister to their fellows.

CHAPTER FOUR  -  A GOOD LISTENER

Another of those qualities we expect to find in the life of every Christian worker is that of being able to listen. No doubt many people regard this as a matter of comparatively little consequence; but experience and observation have shown us that it is by no means so.

Anyone who wishes to serve the Lord must acquire the habit of listening to what people say, and not just listening in a perfunctory manner, but listening attentively with the object of hearing and understanding what is said. If a Christian in conscious need turns to a servant of the Lord for help, as that one listens to his brother’s story he should be able to discern three different kinds of speech – the words he is uttering; the words he is holding back; the words he cannot utter that lie in the depths of his spirit.

In the first place, you must make a point of listening to what the person is actually saying, and listening until you know what he is after, which means that you will need to be quietly before God so that your mind is clear and your spirit calm, for listening is not such an easy matter. Let me ask: Are you able intelligently to follow a person right through when he is laboriously seeking to explain his difficulty? I fear that if a score of you were all listening to the same person at the same time, there might be as many impressions of that person’s problem as there were listeners.

We shall have to take ourselves rigorously in hand if we are to acquire hearing ears! Our ears must be trained to hear. Unless we are well disciplined we grow weary of the tales people in need pour into our ears, and long before they cease speaking we cease listening and then draw our premature conclusions regarding their trouble. Or from the very outset we pay scant attention to what they say to us, because we are so impressed with the importance of what we have to communicate to them, that we are just waiting for an opportunity to break in and take up the role of speaker again, hoping, of course, that they will prove good listeners.

It frequently happens that a worker, having meditated for a time on a certain spiritual theme, is so full of his thoughts on the subject that when a brother in distress comes to seek his help, he immediately brings forth the matter on which he has been meditating. Presently, when a hale and hearty brother comes along, he receives similar treatment; and the same is doled out to all who seek that worker, irrespective of their state.

In Christian work the matter of helping people is more difficult than that of a doctor seeking to relieve the ailments of those who attend his clinic, for he has a laboratory where he can make tests to aid him in his diagnosis of the various cases, whereas a Christian worker has to make his diagnosis without any such aid. If someone comes to you and sits for half an hour supplying you with data on his condition, and you cannot give him a careful hearing, how will you be able to locate his trouble? It is imperative that all who serve the Lord cultivate the art of listening to what people say till they become expert listeners and develop the ability to understand the specific problem of each individual.

In the second place, when anyone in need talks to us, while they are talking we must discern what they refrain from uttering. Naturally it is more difficult to get a clear registration of unspoken words than of spoken ones, but we must learn to listen so attentively that we discern the inaudible as well as the audible. When people consult with us about their affairs, it is not unusual for them to tell half the story and refrain from divulging the other half. It is here that the worker’s competence is tested. If you are an incompetent worker you will only discern what is audibly expressed; or possibly you will try to read between the lines of the story, inserting your own thoughts, thoughts that were never in the heart of the speaker. The result will be a misunderstanding of the one who sought your help. If you are to read accurately between the lines, then your relation with the Lord will need to be a close one. When a person in need speaks only of the superficial trouble and is silent on the important issue, how can you know his condition? You can know it if your own issues are clear before God.

In the third place, we must be able to detect what their spirits are saying. Beyond all the words a person may utter, and the words he may deliberately refrain from uttering, are what we have referred to as the words his spirit is saying. When any Christian who is in need opens his mouth and speaks, his spirit also speaks. The fact that he is willing to talk about himself gives you the opportunity to touch his spirit. If his lips are sealed it is difficult to know what is going on in his spirit, but with the opening of his mouth his spirit will find some measure of release, however much he may seek to control himself.

Your ability to discern what his spirit is saying will depend on the measure of your own spiritual experience. If you have acquired understanding through your own heart-exercise in the presence of God, then you will be able to discern the words that brother has uttered; the words he has refrained from uttering; and the words he is saying deep down in his being. You will be able to discern the intellectual difficulty he has defined and also the undefined spiritual difficulty; and you will be able to offer the specific remedy that his case calls for.

Sadly, very few Christians are good listeners. You could spend a full hour trying to explain your difficulty and at the end they would be quite hazy about it. Our hearing is not sufficiently acute. If we cannot hear what people have to say to us, how can we hear what God has to say? Oh! let us not consider this a trifling matter. If we do not learn to listen, and listen understandingly, even if we become great Bible readers and great Bible teachers, and become efficient in various kinds of work, we shall still be unable to deal with a brother in need. We ought not only to be able to talk to people, we ought to be able to deal with their difficulties. But how can that ever come about if we have only learned to use our mouths and not our ears? Oh! we must realize the seriousness of this lack.

The story is told of an elderly doctor whose entire stock of medicines consisted of two kinds – castor oil and quinine. No matter what complaint his patients suffered from, he invariably doled out either the one medicine or the other. Many Christian workers treat those who come to them just like that. They have one or two pet subjects, and however varied the ailments of those who seek them out, they talk to them along their one or two special lines. Such workers cannot be of any real help to others because they can only talk; they cannot listen. How then shall we acquire the ability to listen to people and to understand what they are saying?

(1) We must not be subjective. Subjectivity is one of the main reasons why people are bad listeners. If you have your own conceptions about people you will find it difficult to take in what they say because your mind is already full of your own conclusions. You are so set in your notions that other people’s opinions cannot penetrate into your mind. You are so firmly persuaded that you have discovered the panacea for all ills that, no matter how varied the needs of those who approach you, you offer the same remedy to them all. How can a worker possibly pay attention to what others are telling him of their need if, before ever they open their mouths, he is convinced that he knows their trouble and has the remedy on hand? We must ask the Lord to save us from this subjectivity. Let us come to Him and pray that He will enable us in all our contacts with others to set aside our own prejudices and our own conclusions and Himself instruct us so that we can come to a true diagnosis of each case.

(2) We must not woolgather. Many believers know nothing of mental discipline. Day and night their thoughts flow on uninterruptedly. They never concentrate, but just let their imaginations roam hither and thither till their minds accumulate such a mass of matter that they can take in nothing more. When people talk to them they cannot follow what is being said, but can only follow the train of their own thoughts and talk of the things that are preoccupying them. It is essential that we learn to quieten our minds so that we can hear and take in what is being said to us.

(3) We must learn to enter into the feelings of others. Even if you listen to what a person is saying, you will still be unable to understand his need unless you can enter sympathetically into his circumstances. If someone comes to you in deep distress and you maintain a bright and breezy manner and are untouched by his grief, you will never arrive at a true diagnosis of his case. If your emotional life has not been dealt with by God, when others express their joy you will be unable to break through with a glad response, and when they express their sorrow you will be unable to share their grief; consequently, when they talk you will be able to hear the words they utter, but you will not be able to interpret their import aright.

We must remember that for Christ’s sake we are the servants of others, and we should not only devote our time and strength to them, we should let our affections go out to them. Of the Lord Jesus it was said that He “sympathized with our weaknesses” (Hb. 4:15). God’s demands of those who serve Him are very exacting. They allow us no leisure for self-occupation. If we must indulge in our own laughter and our own tears, in our own likes and our own dislikes, we shall be too preoccupied to give ourselves freely to others. If we cling to our own pleasures and griefs, and grudge to let our interests go, we shall be like a room that is too full of furniture to accommodate anything more. Or, to put it differently, we shall have expended all our emotions on ourselves and shall have none to spare for others. We need to realize that there is a limit to our soul-strength just as there is to the strength of our bodies. Our emotional powers are not boundless.

If we exhaust our sympathies in one direction, we shall have none to give in another direction. For that reason, anyone who has an inordinate affection for another person cannot be the Lord’s servant. He Himself said: “If any man comes to me, and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters… he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26).

The fundamental need of everyone who is engaged in the Lord’s work is to know the Cross experimentally; otherwise we shall be wrapped up in ourselves and governed by our own thoughts and our own feelings.

There is no cheap and easy way for anyone to be of use to God and to his fellow-men. Let us remember that bad listeners will never be good workers; and to become good listeners the Cross will need to operate deeply in our lives to deliver us from the self-absorption that makes us deaf to the concerns of others. A deep work of the Cross in our lives will produce an inner quiet that will make us patient listeners. That does not mean to say that we shall let people talk for hours on end while we sit in silence and listen; but it does mean that we shall give them a reasonable opportunity to explain what is on their hearts.

There is a prevalent misconception among Christian workers. They think that the primary essential is to be able to speak. Far from it! To be effective workers we need spiritual clarity; we need discernment concerning the condition of all who seek us out; we need quietness of mind to hear them state their case; and we need quietness of spirit so that we can sense their true condition beyond their own definitions of it. We ourselves must abide in a clear relation with the Lord, so that having inward clarity we can clearly discern the needs of others and on the basis of a clear diagnosis be able to bring the specific remedy called for in each case.

CHAPTER FIVE  -  RESTRAINED IN SPEECH

Reading: Jas. 3:11; Eccl. 5:3; 1 Tim. 3:8; Matt. 5:37; Eph. 5:4; Is. 50:4.

Because of unrestrained speech the usefulness of many Christian workers is seriously curtailed. Instead of being powerful instruments in the Lord’s service, their ministry makes little impact on account of the constant leakage of power through their careless talk.

In the third chapter of his epistle James asks the question: “Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening?” (v. 11). If a Christian worker talks inadvisedly about all sorts of things, how can he expect to be used of the Lord in the utterance of His Word? If God has ever put His Word on our lips, then a solemn obligation is upon us to guard these lips for His service alone. We cannot offer a member of our bodies for His use one day and the next day take it back for use at our own discretion. Whatever is once presented to Him is eternally His.

In Numbers 16 we are told how Korah and his associates banded together to oppose Moses and Aaron, and each man of the two hundred and fifty took his censer filled with fire and presented it to the Lord. They all perished for their presumption, but God instructed Moses to rescue the censers. Note the reason given for their preservation: “Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Tell Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, to pick up the censers out of the blaze, for they are holy, and scatter the fire some distance away. The censers of these men who sinned against their own souls, let them be made into hammered plates as a covering for the altar. Because they presented them before the Lord, therefore they are holy” (vv. 36-38). Whatever has been offered to God is set apart for Him and cannot afterwards be put to common use.

Eccl. 5:3 says that in a multitude of words we can detect the voice of a fool. We betray our folly by our talkativeness. We feel we must tell such-and-such to So-and-So, and of course we cannot but tell lots of other things to lots of other people. There seems always to be a good reason for telling something to somebody. Oh, how some of us love to talk, and love above all to relay what others have said! And all the while much spiritual energy is being dissipated.

There are several points connected with this matter of speech that we should note. In the first place, let us note the kind of talk we enjoy listening to. In this way we can get to know ourselves, for the kind of talk we relish indicates the kind of people we are. Some people never confide in you because they know you are not the sort of person who would respond to what they have to say; whereas other people come straight to you and pour into your ears all the latest information they have, because they have sized you up as being the type of person who wants to hear that type of thing. You can judge yourself by stopping to note the things people come and talk to you about.

In the second place, let us observe what tales we most readily credit, for what we are prone to credit reveals our own dispositions. We are more gullible in one direction than in another, and the direction of our gullibility betrays our constitutional weakness. People naturally bring supply to demand, and our temperamental tendencies sometimes trick us into crediting the incredible, especially when statements made to us are backed by the assertion that the speaker has them on good authority.

In the third place, let us note if, when we have listened to people’s stories and accepted them at their face value, we are in the habit of passing them on to our neighbors. Have you noted the process? A certain person with a certain disposition utters certain words that are colored by his personality; and because there is an affinity between him and me, I lend my ears to him and something of his personality enters into mine; then I add the coloring of my temperament and relay the matter to a third party.

In the next place, let us observe the propensity in some speakers to make inaccurate statements. They tell the same tale on different occasions, but the records do not tally. In his first letter to Timothy Paul refers to this type of person as “double-tongued” (1 Tim. 3:8). Some people are ignorantly and weakly double-tongued, but in the case of others there is not only temperamental fickleness, there is moral corruption. Matt. 21:23-27 records that the chief priests and the elders of the people came to the Lord as He was teaching in the temple and asked on whose authority He was acting. He replied with this question; “The baptism of John – where was it from? From heaven or from men?” That put them in a dilemma, so they reasoned among themselves: “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From men,’ we fear the multitude, for all count John as a prophet.” The result of their reasoning was that they evaded the truth and said, “We know not.”

Their answer was a deliberate falsehood. In Matt. 5:37 we read that the Lord said:  “Let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and you ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.” It is not for any Christian worker to be governed by diplomacy and stop to reason about the possible effect of his words on his hearers before deciding what to say. When people sought to lay a snare for the Lord by their questions He sometimes resorted to silence, but never to diplomacy. Let us follow His example, and let us take counsel from Paul who wrote to the Corinthians: “If any one among you seems to be wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise” (1 Cor. 3:18). And writing to the Romans he said: “I want you to be… simple concerning evil” (16:19).

In the spiritual realm worldly wisdom, is of no avail. The trouble with many people is that they have never learned in simplicity to say “Yes” when the facts of the case demand a Yes, and to say “No” when they know that the truth is No. Their speech is never simple and straightforward, but is carefully studied, and their statements are always suited to their own interests.

As the Lord’s servants we come into constant contact with people and have therefore many opportunities of talking and of hearing others talk, so it is essential that we exercise strict control over ourselves lest we become in turn preachers of the Word and relayers of gossip. This tragic state of affairs is more than a possibility. If we are to avoid this snare into which not a few have already fallen, we must not only take heed to our mouths, but also to our ears. In our work we cannot avoid listening to what many people have to tell us about their own affairs, and to be efficient workers we have to cultivate the art of listening that we may be able to help them; but we must discourage them from going into further details once we have inward clarity regarding their need. We have to be watchful lest our natural curiosity betray us into hearing more than is good for us to know. There is such a thing as lust for knowledge, lust for information about other people’s business, and we must beware of it. We need to be restrained in speech; but if we are to exercise restraint in what we say, then we must first exercise restraint in what we hear.

At this point the question arises of gaining and retaining people’s confidence. If anyone shares his spiritual problems with us, that is a trust we must respect. We must not speak of these confidences unless the interests of the work make it necessary. How can you serve the Lord if you betray confidence that has been placed in you? But how can you do other than betray confidence if you have not learned to bridle your tongue?

We need to treat such confidences as a sacred trust and guard them faithfully. Those who in their need have shared their secret history with us have not done so to add to our personal store of knowledge. They have approached us, not by virtue of what we are in our person, but by virtue of the ministry we exercise, so we cannot regard this as personal knowledge to be shared with all and sundry. We must learn to safeguard every confidence placed in us by others. People who cannot bridle their tongues cannot be entrusted with the Lord’s work.

In considering the matter of speech we cannot but touch on the evil habit of telling lies. The double-tongued character to whom we have referred is a close kinsman of the liar. All utterances that are made with intent to deceive come into the category of lying, and the intent to deceive is a heart matter. If you are asked a question you do not wish to answer, or are unable to answer, you can politely refuse to reply, but you dare not deceive the questioner. We want people to believe the truth, not the lie; we dare not therefore use what are in themselves true words in order to convey a false impression.

If the fact is Yes then we must learn to say, Yes; if it is No we must learn to say, No. What is more than that is of the evil one. The Lord once spoke very strongly to some of those who followed Him: “You are of your father the devil… When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar, and the father of it” (Jn. 8:44). The devil is the author of lies, and since all lies originate with him, how can anyone who is professedly devoted to the Lord lend his lips to utter words that are instigated by His enemy? Wherever this state of affairs exists it indicates fundamental trouble in the life of the individual. This trouble is of the gravest possible nature. None of us dare lay claim to utter accuracy of speech (in fact, the more careful we seek to be the more we realize the difficulty of being exact in all we say), but we must cultivate the habit of being true and avoiding all careless utterance.

Let us also avoid everything that savors of wrangling. It was prophesied of the Lord: “He will not quarrel, nor cry out, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets” (Matt. 12:19). And Paul wrote to Timothy “A servant of the Lord must not quarrel” (2 Tim. 2:24). The Lord’s servant should have himself under such control that he does not give way to noisy conversation or anything that borders on quarreling. Loud talking usually indicates lack of power, and it always indicates lack of self-discipline. We may be perfectly right in what we say, but there is no need for loud affirmations of the truth; we can get the truth across without any noisy insistence on our convictions about it. Let us walk before the Lord in the quiet dignity that befits His servants. Of course we do not want to assume a sobriety or a refinement that is artificial, for the Christian life is spontaneous and unaffected; but self-control has to be practiced until it becomes second nature.

Self-control in the matter of speech will rule out much light talking and jesting, to which Paul refers in his Ephesian letter as “not fitting” (5:4); it will rule out scoffing too and much else that is unseemly in a servant of Christ. If we can entertain an audience with our interesting tales and witty remarks and clever criticisms, we shall fail to command their respect when we speak for the Lord; our words will have no weight with them. When we stand on the platform to proclaim the Word of God they will assess our preaching at the same rate as the words we spoke so lightly when we were off the platform. Let us remember that pointed question in God’s Word: “Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening?” (Jas. 3:11) There is no need for laborious preparations before we go onto the platform to preach; but there is need for constant precaution in our ordinary, everyday conversation lest our careless talk cause leakage of power so that when we speak from the platform our words become ineffective.

If you acquire the habit of carelessness in speech you will be a careless Bible reader. The words of this Book are the only utterly reliable words, but if you do not appreciate accuracy of speech you will not treat these words seriously; consequently your preaching will carry little weight. For the effective preaching of the Word a certain disposition is required in the preacher, and a reading of the Word demands the same disposition. Careless characters approach God’s Word lightly and cannot hope to arrive at any true understanding of it. Let us illustrate from the Word itself.

From Matthew 22 we learn that the Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection. One day they came to the Lord and posed this problem: “‘Teacher, Moses said that if a man dies, having no children, his brother shall marry his wife and raise up offspring for his brother. Now there were with us seven brothers. The first died after he had married, and having no offspring, left his wife to his brother. Likewise the second also, and the third, even to the seventh. Last of all the woman died also. Therefore, in the resurrection, whose wife of the seven will she be? For they all had her.’ Jesus answered and said to them, ‘You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels of God in heaven. But concerning the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God, saying, I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living’” (vv. 24-32).

The Sadducees certainly read the Scriptures, but they did not know the Scriptures. Their own words were uttered lightly, so they had no appreciation of the absolute accuracy of God’s utterances.

Our Lord only quoted one short passage from God’s Word to answer their question: Ex. 3.15 where God calls Himself the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. From these few words the Lord reasoned thus: You Sadducees admit that Abraham is dead, Isaac is dead and Jacob is dead; but God declares that He is their God, and He also affirms that He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, so nothing short of resurrection can enable the living God to be their God. The Sadducees were silenced.

When we stand before the judgment-seat we may discover that the damage done by light, loose talk exceeds that done in many other ways, for it works great havoc in other lives as well as in our own. Words that have once escaped our lips cannot be recovered; they may go on and on from mouth to ear and ear to mouth, spreading damage as they go. We can repent our folly and we can be forgiven, but we cannot retrieve what we have released.

We have spoken of various defects of character that mar the life and ministry of many Christians, but if our trouble is an unbridled tongue it is more serious than all the others we have mentioned, for the careless words the tongue utters release a deadly stream that flows on and on spreading death wherever it goes.

Brothers and sisters, in the face of such solemn facts we need to repent. Many words we have uttered in the past were “idle words”, but they are no longer “idle”; they are very busy now and are working great havoc. We seek God’s cleansing for the past, and for the present we trust Him to deal radically with this thing that threatens to wreck our usefulness to Him. If in His mercy He does so we shall be spared many regrets in the future. Abraham could repent of begetting an Ishmael, and even after that regrettable release of the natural life could still beget an Isaac for God’s purpose, but he had already produced an enemy for God’s chosen seed; and though he sent Hagar and her son away from his son Isaac, that did not deal with the enmity, and it still exists after the lapse of centuries.

It is written of the Lord Jesus: “The Lord GOD has given me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak” (Is. 50:4). “The tongue of the learned” can be rendered “the tongue of a disciple”, i.e., one who has been disciplined. We need to seek Him earnestly to enable us to bridle our tongues, so that this “unruly member” may become a disciplined member. When this mouth is under strict control and ceases to release that which does damage to His interests, we may then expect Him to use it as His mouthpiece. As He for our sakes sanctified Himself, may we for the sake of those to whom He has sent us sanctify ourselves. Let us be ever on the watch and separate ourselves from all associations that would involve us in unedifying talk lest we jeopardize our God-given ministry.

CHAPTER SIX  –  NOT SUBJECTIVE

Reading: Num. 22:7-20; Gen. 22:1-13; Ps. 32:8-9; Matt. 20:25-26; Phil. 1:15-18.

Subjectivity is another defect in the character of some Christian workers which has an adverse effect on the work. We have already mentioned one of the directions in which its baneful effects manifest themselves – the inability to hear. As we pointed out, it is essential for every Christian worker to cultivate the ability to hear what people have to say; otherwise they have no means of getting to know their fellows and are consequently unable to serve them.

Another harmful effect of subjectivity is the inability to learn. A subjective person is so self-opinionated that he is almost unteachable. When some young people first engage in Christian work they fancy they know all there is to be known, and they are so set in their ideas that it is almost impossible to get anything across to them, so progress is pitifully slow. Unteachability is one of the most tragic aspects of subjectivity. If a person cannot learn, what possibility of advance is there? If we can be thoroughly delivered from our reluctance to accept instruction, so that we receive it without hesitation, we shall be able to move on swiftly from one new lesson to another. There are endless lessons to be learned in the spiritual realm, so we must be prepared to receive help from many quarters. Unless we become better learners we shall make pathetically little progress even in a life-time.

The secret of spiritual advance is openness to God, so we must throw heart and mind and spirit wide open to Him that we may make way for divine impressions to reach us; failing that, we shall become so unimpressionable that He will have to use bit and bridle, or the lash of the whip, in order to make us aware of His presence and purpose. Inability to receive guidance is one of the consequences of a subjective state, for subjectivity closes the being to God. In Numbers 22 we are told of Balaam that when Balak offered him a reward if he would curse the children of Israel, he did not commit himself, but said: “Lodge here this night, and I will bring you word again, as the Lord shall speak unto me.” And God said to him, “You shall not go with them.” Accordingly, Balaam rose up in the morning and answered the princes of Balak: “Go back to your land, for the LORD has refused to give me permission to go with you.” Could anything have been clearer than that? But when Balak again pressed the point Balaam said: “…please, you also stay here tonight, that I may know what more the LORD will say to me.”

And the divine record reads: “God came to Balaam at night and said to him, “If the men come to call you, rise and go with them.” When Balaam brought his second inquiry to God, why did God permit him to go, seeing on his first inquiry he had so positively refused to let him go? Because when God gave Balaam so unequivocal an answer to his inquiry he should have accepted that as final and should not have reopened the question. That he did so proved his subjectivity. Ostensibly he had come to seek God’s mind, but his own mind was already made up. He knew what he wanted to do and was bent on doing it.

God demands instant acceptance of His word. If He says “Go”, we should go at once. The trouble with subjective people is that if God says “Go”, they are so set in their own ideas that it takes a long time before they can adjust to His command; and if eventually they go, they become so set in their going that they cannot instantly obey if God says “Stop”. They have to go through another difficult process of adjustment before they can do so. If God bids you go, can you drop everything and go at once? And when you have obeyed His command to go and are prepared to keep on going, can you stop instantly if God issues the order to stop? If you are subjective it will be very difficult to get you going at all, for you will first have your own ideas to contend with; and once you have accepted God’s command to go, you will attach your mind to His command, and there will be another battle before you can relinquish the idea of going when God gives the word to stop. When a person has become pliable in His hand, there is instant response to any fresh indication of His will.

In Abraham’s offering up of Isaac we get a beautiful picture of a man who had been saved from himself. If Abraham had consulted his own experience when God asked him to offer up Isaac, he could never have obeyed. He would probably have reasoned after this fashion: – I had no son, and the possibility of having one never occurred to me. It was God Who took the initiative in this impossible situation; and it was He who saw it through. How can He nullify His own purpose by requiring me to offer up Isaac? -

If anyone in a subjective state had been met with that challenge, what reasons he could have produced for not complying with God’s command! But Abraham’s life with God had become so simple that even such a challenge presented no problem to him. He believed God could take care of His own purpose by raising Isaac from the dead, so in simplicity of faith he placed his son on the altar and raised the knife to slay him. Just at that point God told Abraham to stay his hand and showed him a ram which he could offer instead of his son. Now if Abraham had been subjective, this would have presented a new problem to him; he would doubtless have been bewildered and wondered how he could ever discern God’s will if one moment He told him to do one thing and the next moment the very reverse. For Abraham all was perfectly simple and straightforward. When God gave the word to offer his son, he instantly accepted it and prepared to offer him; when God gave the word to stay his hand and offer the substitute, he unquestioningly did so. Abraham’s instant obedience left no room for perplexity.

When God asks some Christians to sacrifice this or that for His sake, they immediately think of all sorts of problems relating to His word; and if in process of time they manage to solve their problems and offer the required sacrifice, if God asks them to cease, new problems arise in their minds as to how they can consistently do so. The simplicity of God’s revealed will is subjected to the complexities of their own thinking, with the result that if there is obedience at all it is tardy and laborious. If we attach our thoughts to the will of God, when His commands change, our thoughts remain fixed and this ‘setness’ of mind prevents us from simply doing as He says.

We read in Psalm 32:8-9: “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will guide you with my eye. Do not be like the horse or like the mule, which have no understanding, which must be harnessed with bit and bridle.” Even the horse and the mule can be made to do what their owner wills (though not without external control), but God never intended to direct His children in that way.

The horse and mule “have no understanding”, but His children have such an intimate relationship with Him that even a glance of the eye should be sufficient to make His desire known to them. Knowledge of the will of God is not a question of finding the right method, but of finding the right man. If the man is not right with God no method will avail to make the will of God clear to him; if the man is right with God, the knowledge of His will will be a simple matter. This does not rule out methods, but we would emphasize that with the fullest knowledge of all the methods by which it may please God to make His will known, we shall still remain in ignorance of it, if we are not walking in quiet intimacy with Him.

A further point to note in regard to subjectivity is that unless our ego has been laid bare to us by God and drastically dealt with, we shall not be fit instruments in His hand to deal with other lives. God will not commit the handling of men to a man who himself has not been molded by His hands. It is not possible for one who has not learned to discern and do the will of God to be used of Him to lead others into His will. If a Christian worker in whom the ego is still dominant seeks to instruct others in the way of God, however much he may impart of doctrine, his own intellectual and emotional background will inevitably come into expression and obscure the way.

Consciously or unconsciously such a worker will seek to dominate other lives. Whether intentionally or otherwise he will impose his opinions on them and will want them to say as he says and act as he acts. He may pose as a great leader of God’s people, or a great teacher, or as a wonderful father of the flock; but however impressive his leadership may be, he cannot express divine authority because his life is dominated by his own will, not by the will of God. Our Lord said: “The rulers of the gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Not so shall it be among you” (Matt. 20:25-26). If we are to be good shepherds, the Lord will have to bring us very low, for our domineering natures are liable to scatter the flock instead of gathering them.

We must learn not to lord it over those entrusted to our care and not to lead them beyond their ability to follow. If we have a burden from the Lord we should be faithful in discharging it, but we dare not insist that others accept the message we proclaim. Let us remember that God respects the free-will He has given to man, and if He never coerces man, how dare we? Let us learn to walk softly before Him and not get up lightly before men, eager to play the role of leader. It should be no matter for self-gratification that people are ready to hear what we have to say, but should rather drive us to the Lord in fear and trembling and make us pay the more earnest heed to what He tells us. No matter how strong our convictions may be, we must learn to distrust ourselves, for we are all prone to err; and the more self-assured we are the more liable we are to go astray. One of the dangers of subjectivity is that our self-confidence makes us eager to lead others, and the greater the following we can attract, the more our self-confidence is fed, with the result that we become less and less able to receive help from others or to discern the leading of the Lord.

Christians of this kind can only work on their own. Because they are set in their ways they cannot adjust to others and cannot therefore function in any corporate capacity. They have never met spiritual authority, and because they have never learned subjection to authority they cannot truly exercise authority. Many Christians, from the beginning of their history right up to date, have never known what it is to subject themselves to any of their fellow-Christians. Because they have never known what it means to be led, God cannot trust them with the leadership of other lives.

Brothers and sisters, do take note of this fact that if anyone offers himself for Christian service and has not previously learned submission, he will be set in his own ways and will always be ready to take the initiative and to lead his fellows; whereas one who has learned subjection through stern discipline will be firmly established in the Lord, but will not seek to lord it over others. I trust none of you will be overbearing, but will cede to your fellow-Christians the right to make their own free choice in everything. We must beware lest we rob them of their God-given free-will by imposing our convictions upon them.

As long as a brother who is of a subjective disposition is left in solitary state his individualism is not apparent, but place him together with a few other brothers and he immediately takes the lead. Or place a sister who has a strong subjective tendency in a room with another sister, and she will soon be telling her companion what kind of food one should eat, what style of dress one should wear, and what type of mattress is most conducive to sleep. Provided only one of the sisters is self-opinionated, life together will still be possible; but if both have the same disposition it will not be long before they come to a deadlock.

We have stressed the need of yieldedness as we live and work together, but that does not mean indiscriminate submission, nor does it mean silent toleration of evil. As servants of the Lord we must be faithful, and faithfulness will sometimes make it necessary for us to exhort, or warn, or rebuke. At times we shall need to deal firmly with others, for we dare not condone what is wrong, but those who have been dealt with by the Lord will deal with others in faithfulness to them and to God, not because of an innate love of dominating other lives.

Paul was a born leader, but he was a man who had been dealt with by the Lord. As he discharged his ministry some of his utterances were “weighty and forceful”. He could be scathing in his denunciation of evil, yet he could be gentle to the point of tenderness with the weak and erring. In the strongest of terms he could expose false teachers, yet he was so emancipated from himself that he could say: “Some indeed preach Christ even from envy and strife, and some also from goodwill: The former preach Christ from selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my chains; but the latter out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice” (Phil. 1:15-18). Do you see the poise in Paul’s life? He could rejoice if men received his message and walked with him, but he could still rejoice if they rejected his message and opposed him.

Faithfulness demanded an uncompromising attitude and uncompromising speech, but if his strong utterances provoked antagonism to him, he did not take this as a personal affront, but could still rejoice that they were preaching Christ. The subjective person is obsessed with his own ideas and is always advocating them, and he is apt to feel hurt if his suggestions are not followed; but the one who has constantly accepted correction hesitates to take the lead and shuns the danger of manipulating other lives. The man who clings to his own thoughts and ways is petty and officious, but the man who has learned to bow under the chastening hand of God has been enlarged through pressure and is a big man with far-flung horizons.

To sum up what we have been saying, if the Lord’s purpose is to be realized through us, we must be delivered from all subjectivity, and that can only come about as we allow Him to take us in hand and deal unsparingly with us, for our ego is the crux of the trouble. In some lives this is more obvious than in others, but none of us is exempt from the trouble. We still have our own opinions and our own ways of working, and we still have a tendency to control other lives. So let us humble ourselves under the hand of God that He may make us uncompromisingly faithful in all our ministry, yet gentle in spirit and always swift to give way to other members of His household.

CHAPTER SEVEN  -  ONE WHO DISCIPLINES HIS BODY

Reading: 1 Cor. 9:23-27; 2 Cor. 11:27; 1 Cor. 4:11-13; Rom. 8:11.

Paul writing to the Corinthians said: “Now this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I may be partaker of it with you. Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified” (1 Cor. 9:23-27).

In verse 23 Paul introduces himself as a servant of God, a preacher of the gospel. “Now this I do for the gospel’s sake,” he says; and having told us what an uncompromising attitude he has adopted toward himself in order to realize his objective – “I discipline my body and bring it into subjection” – he proceeds to explain how he gives effect to this determination of his to maintain the mastery of his body.

We wish right away to make it clear that the writer of the Corinthian epistle is not an ascetic. He does not hold with those who teach that the body is an encumbrance which we must seek to get rid of, much less that it is the source of evil. On the contrary, in this same letter he declares that the body of the believer is a temple of the Holy Spirit, and that a day is coming when the redemption of the body will be an actuality and we shall have glorified bodies. No trace of asceticism should mar the Christian conception of “buffeting the body” (KJV). We repudiate the thought that the body is a hindrance to us and is the source of sin; but we do definitely acknowledge that we can sin with the body, and that we can still sin however drastically we deal with it.

In this ninth chapter of 1 Corinthians Paul confronts Christian workers with the challenge of making the body subservient to their interests as servants of Christ. It is as a Christian worker, as a preacher of the gospel, that Paul approaches the problem, and it is in the interests of the gospel that he seeks to solve it. And here is his solution – “I buffet my body and bring it under” (KJV). The term “buffet” is no soft term; there is no suggestion of half measures in Paul’s treatment of himself.

Just how Paul buffets his body and gains the mastery over it he explains clearly. As this subject is of vital importance to every Christian worker, let us note carefully what he has to say about it. In his practical application of the subject to the Lord’s servants, Paul uses the illustration of a race-course. “Do you not know”, he says in verse twenty-four, “that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it.”

Not all who enter the race are prizewinners, says Paul, and he exhorts his readers so to run that they may win the prize. How that can be done he explains in verse twenty-five, and he draws his metaphor from the Olympic games. “Everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things.” Paul stresses the need of self-discipline on the part of every competitor. Those who compete for the prize must exercise rigorous control over themselves. During the period of training before the games they cannot eat when they please and what they please; much that might be normally allowed is no longer permitted. And when they actually enter the course stringent rules must be adhered to; otherwise they will be disqualified.

You say: I must have this, and I must have that. All right! If you are not a competitor in the games, you may; but if you are, you must have your body under absolute control. What does “temperate in all things” mean? It means that the body must not be allowed to make excessive demands; its liberty has to be curtailed. It is not on the racecourse in order to satisfy its demands for food, or drink, or clothing, or sleep; it is there to perform one function – to run, and so to run that the prize is secured.

Paul continues to reason from this same illustration: “Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown.” The winner in the Olympic sports was crowned with a fading laurel wreath, yet he subjected himself to rigorous discipline over an extended period in order to gain it. What self-control should not we exercise to win an imperishable crown? “Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air”, says Paul, still pursuing his theme. He is not subjecting himself to all this discipline for nothing; he has a clear objective in view; he is making straight for the goal. This verse has to be read in conjunction with the next. He is not running hither and thither, and he is not fighting at random; all his movements are regulated because he has his body strictly under his sway, and he has been able to gain the mastery over it by disciplining it violently.

Brothers and sisters, if you have not yet brought your body under control, you had better call a halt in the work and gain dominion over it before you try to exercise authority in any wider realm. You may take great pleasure in the work, but it will have little value if you are dominated by your physical cravings. Serving the Lord is no mere matter of preaching sermons from a platform. Paul knew that.

What is implied by bringing our bodies into servitude? To understand that, we must first understand what the demands of the body are. We shall only mention a few of them – food and clothing; rest and recreation; and in times of sickness, special care. All these are legitimate demands. But the Lord’s work makes its demands too, and if I am to respond to these I shall have to impose restrictions on the body. When the work makes special demands on the physical frame, it will be able to endure the strain if it has been constantly disciplined, but if its cravings have normally been allowed to govern, it will be out of condition when strenuous service is required of it.

If it has not habitually learned to serve its master, when he calls on its members to put forth their combined efforts on the racecourse, the feet will refuse to function and the other members will be slow to obey orders. If the race is to be won, the athlete dare not relax his restraint on the body when he is off the racecourse. If in the ordinary, everyday life of a Christian worker his body has never been taught to know its master, how can it be expected to respond to the extraordinary demands he will at times have to make upon it for the work’s sake? It is only as you persistently assert your authority that it will eventually cede you your place. If in everyday life it has acquired the habit of obedience, it can be counted on to serve you faithfully under circumstances of exceptional strain.

May I ask, Are you the master of your body, or are you its slave? Does it submit to your orders, or do you give way to its desires? Your body regularly demands sleep, and that demand is legitimate. God has divided time into day and night to provide man with the opportunity to rest, and if man disregards the divine provision, he will not do so with impunity. On the other hand, if he allows his body to govern, and lets it sleep whenever it feels so inclined, it will become too soft and sluggish to work. Normally it is reasonable to allow the body eight hours’ rest each day, but when the Lord’s interests require it, we may have to reduce the hours of rest, or even forgo sleep altogether for a night or two.

That night in the garden of Gethsemane the Lord took three of His disciples apart and said to them: “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful even to death. Stay here and watch.” But when He returned from prayer He found them sleeping and said to Peter, “Simon, are you sleeping? Could you not watch one hour?” No, they could not watch with our Lord for even an hour; the craving for sleep had overcome them.

What is wrong in wanting to sleep at night? Nothing. But if the Lord requires us to watch with Him and we obey our bodily cravings instead of obeying Him, we shall have failed as His servants. This does not mean that we can go without sleep indefinitely, for we are human beings, not spirits; but it does mean that if we are to meet the Lord’s need we must constantly keep the body under control so that it becomes inured to hardship.

What does it mean to run the race? It means doing something exceptional. Normally we walk along gradually step by step, but on the racecourse we have to quicken the pace, so the body is called upon to put forth extra effort. As a rule we may allow ourselves eight hours’ sleep, but whenever the Lord’s service demands it we must be prepared to curtail our rest-time; it is then that we must ‘buffet’ the body. When our Lord found His disciples sleeping after He had specially asked them to watch, He laid bare the trouble: “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” What is the good of having a willing spirit if the flesh is impotent to do what the spirit wills? If the flesh is weak, even a willing spirit cannot keep you awake. If you are to watch with the Lord when He requires it, you will need a willing body as well as a willing spirit. The body is not an encumbrance, but it is a servant that needs training in order to serve well; and the training has to take place under ordinary circumstances so that it will always be ready to meet the demand of exceptional circumstances.

Nicodemus came to the Lord by night, and the Lord could talk to him at leisure, despite the lateness of the hour; and the Gospels record that at times the Lord could spend whole nights in prayer. He was prepared to allow His ministry to encroach upon His sleep, and we must be prepared to do the same. We are not advocating that Christian workers make a habit of spending nights in prayer. To turn night into day and constantly spend the night hours in prayer is damaging to body and mind, for it is abnormal; but is it normal for the Lord’s servants never to sacrifice their sleep for His service? If in this matter of sleep we indulge the body habitually, it will balk when we try to impose any restriction on it to meet some special demand of the work.

The same principle applies to the matter of eating and drinking. Under special circumstances our Lord could abstain from food, but He could eat well when there was no call for abstinence. His body had to obey Him. Some people are so dependent on food that they cannot work if they have to go hungry. We undoubtedly need food and we dare not ignore our physical needs, but the body must be trained to go without food when circumstances require. You remember the occasion when the Lord sat down beside Jacob’s well to rest a while and was brought face to face with a woman in great need. It was mealtime, but the Lord ignored His own physical need and patiently explained to her how her spiritual need could be met. If we arrive hungry at a certain place and cannot do anything there till we have had a meal, our bodies are not serving us as they should. Without being extremists, surely we should have mastered them to this extent at least that, if for the work’s sake we make them go short of one meal, they do not overcome us by their insistent cries for food.

In the third chapter of Mark’s Gospel we read that the Lord was surrounded by such a multitude of needy folk that he had no leisure to eat. His friends reacted by seeking to drag Him away from the crowd, for they said He was beside Himself; but He could do no other than waive His own physical needs for the time being because of the pressing need of the multitude. If you and I can never forgo a meal when the work demands our immediate attention we shall do little effective work.

At such times we must bridle our bodies lest they get the upper hand and the Lord’s interests suffer. The Bible states plainly that Christians should fast when occasion requires. Sometimes a special need calls for prolonged prayer that leaves no leisure for food, and when we meet a situation that will not yield to prayer unaccompanied by fasting we must temporarily refuse to grant the body’s rational demands.

Another demand of the body is comfort. We dare not find fault with a worker for enjoying a measure of ease when circumstances permit; what we should, however, deplore would be inability on his part to respond to the call of the work if the comforts he was accustomed to were not provided. The Lord’s servants should be able to enjoy the relaxation of easier conditions when He so orders; and those who, despite the fact that they are comfortably situated habitually ‘buffet’ the body, will be better able to adapt to circumstances of great discomfort than those whose lot is inferior to theirs but have not made it their business to bring their bodies into subjection.

As for clothing, it should not command undue attention. The Lord Jesus said of John the Baptist that if anyone wanted to see an elegantly attired person there was no good in looking in his direction; the place to look was the royal palace. Some Christians, sadly, have set themselves too high a standard in the matter of clothing and insist on always conforming to that. We hold that it is not glorifying to the Lord for us to wear disreputable garments, but that we should, whenever possible, be clean and tidy and suitably dressed; nevertheless, we should not forget the example set us by Paul, who could let everything go for the Lord’s sake. Referring to his own experiences he writes: “in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness” (2 Cor. 11:27).

In times of sickness or weakness the body makes heavier demands than usual, and under such circumstances many a Christian worker excuses himself from work. How could Paul ever have done the work committed to him if he had called a halt whenever he was not feeling fit? And what would have happened to Timothy’s ministry if he had pampered his body when he suffered from his “frequent infirmities”? It is necessary for us to take reasonable care of ourselves in sickness and in health, but that does not rule out the necessity to ‘buffet’ the body and keep it under. Even in times of sickness and intense pain, if the Lord so commands, we can refuse to heed all its cries and obey Him. If we are to be of use to Him it is imperative that we gain full mastery over these bodies of ours.

This principle must be applied to sexual desire as to all other bodily cravings. If we are Christ’s servants, then His service must have priority over all else. In 1 Cor. 4:11-13 Paul says: “To the present hour we both hunger and thirst, and we are poorly clothed, and beaten, and homeless. And we labor, working with our own hands. Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we endure; being defamed, we entreat. We have been made as the filth of the world, the offscouring of all things until now.” It is obvious that Paul’s manifold sufferings in the flesh were not confined to an isolated period in his life, and that nothing was ever allowed to hinder his service for his Lord.

In the sixth chapter of this same epistle, from verse twelve to the end, he refers to two matters – the matter of food and the matter of sex – and he makes it very clear that we are servants of the Lord, not servants of the body. Then in chapter seven he treats the subject of sex in some detail, and in chapter eight the subject of food, pressing his point home that we are under no obligation to do the will of the flesh for we belong to Christ and must serve Him. For His sake we must learn to say “No” to our physical cravings, and we shall have to enforce our “No” with dealings sufficiently drastic to establish the fact that the reins are in our hands. The Lord is the Creator of the body and He has created it with certain impulses that are perfectly legitimate; but He created the body to be our servant, not our master, and until that is established we cannot serve Him as we ought.

Even such an one as Paul feared he might be rejected from the racecourse and miss the prize; so he took the precaution of subduing his body by constant ‘buffetings’. And what can we say of our Lord who denied Himself the uttermost glory and stooped to the depths of shame and suffering? For love of Him shall we not command these bodies to serve us that we may serve Him unhampered? Shall we not bid them be strong in the strength of His risen life? Has He not said, “If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you”?

CHAPTER EIGHT  –  HAVING A MIND TO SUFFER

Reading: 1 Pet. 4:1; 2 Sam. 23:14-17; Rev. 2:10.

Every Christian worker should have a mind to suffer. In 1 Pet. 4:1 we read this word: “Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind.” A right mentality in relation to suffering is an essential part of every Christian worker’s equipment.

There is a certain widely accepted school of thought which maintains that every form of enjoyment militates against spiritual development. We emphatically reject this philosophy, for God’s own Word declares that the portion of His people is a blessed portion. In the eighty-fourth psalm we read: “The Lord will give grace and glory; no good thing will he withhold from those who walk uprightly”; and the very familiar twenty-third psalm says: “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.” Throughout the entire Bible the Lord’s loving shepherd-care is clearly portrayed, and all through the Scriptures we see Him faithfully watching over His own, delivering them out of their distresses, and always making a distinction between His people and the nations. Even while His chosen people sojourned in Egypt, He singled out for peculiar blessing that section of the land where they dwelt.

On the other hand, God does not exempt His children from trial or chastisement; indeed, trial and chastisement are necessary to secure their growth to maturity. But what we wish to call attention to here is an aspect of suffering frequently referred to in the Word of God which is the deliberate choice of those of His children whose consuming desire is to be of service to Him. It is not something imposed upon them to which they reluctantly submit, but something they willingly choose. David’s three mighty men need not have exposed themselves to danger in order to get him a drink of water; but when they heard him express the longing for a draft from the well of Bethlehem, they hazarded their lives and broke through the ranks of the Philistine host in order to satisfy his desire (see 2 Sam. 23:14-17).

There is much suffering that we can avoid if we wish; but if we are to be of use to the Lord, it is a fundamental necessity that we make deliberate choice of the path of suffering for His sake. Unless we acquire a disposition to suffer for Him, the work we do will be of a very superficial quality.

What do we mean when we speak of having a mind to suffer? In the first place, let us clearly differentiate between suffering and a mind to suffer. To have a mind to suffer implies that we have willingly chosen the path of suffering for Christ’s sake; it means that we have a heart to endure affliction on His behalf. The question is not one of the amount of suffering we may be called upon to meet, but of our attitude toward the suffering we meet.

For instance, the Lord may have placed you in circumstances where you are provided with food and clothing and a nicely furnished home. It does not follow, if you have chosen to suffer for His sake, that you cannot continue to enjoy all the gifts He has given you. The question is not: Are your external circumstances hard or easy, but: Is your heart-attitude a settled one to endure hardship for His sake? Suffering may not be your daily portion, but you must daily be prepared to suffer.

Alas! the rank and file of Christians, and many Christian workers too, seem to go on splendidly as long as circumstances are propitious, but the moment any affliction befalls them they come to a halt. The trouble is, they are not inwardly prepared to suffer. If it is a settled matter that we have willingly accepted the way of suffering for the sake of our Lord, then trial never takes us unawares. If He cares to grant us respite from suffering, that is His affair; but on our part we are always ready to meet it. Whenever it comes we accept it as a matter of course; and because we do not think it strange, we are not tempted to deviate from the path, but forge straight ahead. Note carefully what Peter says: “Since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind.” Have you taken note that the mind to suffer is a piece of armor? It is an item of our equipment for spiritual warfare that renders the devil impotent when he attacks us at any vulnerable point. If we lack this bit of armor we are unfit for the conflict.

There are some Christians who endure suffering, but they have no conception of the preciousness of the suffering that is their lot. They go through it without any sense of gratitude to the Lord and only hope for the day when they will be delivered out of it.  They do not heartily accept affliction, but regard it as something deplorable that has to be endured. Their attitude betrays the fact that they lack the mind to suffer.

Brothers and sisters, if in times of prosperity you have not a mind to suffer, then when adversity overtakes you, you will be unable to continue serving the Lord; but if you are armed with the determination to suffer for His sake, you will go steadily on whatever befalls you. Do not take for granted when you are bearing affliction that you are suffering for the Lord’s sake. The question is not: How much suffering have you been through? but, To what extent have you rejoiced in the suffering? It is possible for us to suffer a great deal of heartache and a great deal of hardship without having the will to suffer.

The will to suffer is something deeply inward. Let us get quite clear on this point that it is very possible to have a heart to suffer and yet have no material hardship, and that it is equally possible to go through much material hardship without having a heart to suffer. If Christians were all offered the option to suffer or not to suffer, many would most definitely choose exemption from suffering, and that for the simple reason that they lack the desire to suffer for their Lord. Any Christian worker in whose life there is this inward lack will always be praying for prosperous circumstances in order to make headway with the work.

There is little sign of hardship in the circumstances of some of God’s children while others are obviously in great straits. We would naturally conclude that the latter would know His grace in fuller measure than the former and would have a richer spiritual ministry. As a matter of fact, the reverse often holds good; and when we look closely into the situation we discover that though the latter are suffering, they lack the mind to suffer and would escape their trials at the first possible moment. Their suffering is profitless; they learn nothing through it.

One of the difficulties we are liable to meet in the work is financial straitness. At times it seems as though the Lord has made inadequate provision for us and we decide we cannot carry on. How must the Lord feel about such reactions? Have you ever heard Him ask you: What are you serving Me for? Oh, this question often finds us out! What servant of Christ can stipulate that he will go to work if the sun shines, but will stay at home if it rains? If you have a right mentality about suffering, then nothing will daunt you. You will dare to defy circumstances; you will defy physical infirmity; you will defy death; you will even defy the hosts of darkness.

But if you have not cultivated this disposition you will give way to fear in the face of difficulty; and if you harbor fear you will fall an easy prey to the enemy. He will put upon you the very thing you fear, and you will be vulnerable to his assaults because your mind is not safeguarded by the determination to suffer in the flesh even as Christ suffered. Shall we say to Him: “By the constraint of Your love and the enabling of Your grace, whatever the consequences, I am committed to Your service”?

The Christian should not invite trouble or go out in search of it, but when he encounters it he should do so with a mind already made up to endure it gladly for the Lord’s sake. For instance, if you are physically weak you naturally need a more comfortable bed than a strong person; but if when you go out to work for the Lord you make up your mind that you must have a comfortable bed, you will be vulnerable to the enemy at that point. On the other hand, if you have a mind to suffer for His sake but find that you have been provided with a comfortable bed, there is no virtue in going out of your way to harden yourself by sleeping on the floor. Do not imagine that Christians who live in unfavorable circumstances will as a matter of course be better able to endure hardness than those who live in more favorable circumstances. It is only those who, whatever their circumstances – favorable or unfavorable – have committed themselves to the Lord and have armed themselves with a mind to suffer, who will be able to endure in the day of testing. A brother accustomed to comfort who has had a definite transaction with the Lord, and has a mind to suffer for His sake, will have far greater power of endurance than anyone accustomed to hardship who has not armed himself with this mind.

If this question is not deliberately settled your weakness will be found out one day, and in that day you will give way to self-pity. On a certain occasion a sister, who had been serving the Lord for years, came upon another sister shedding copious tears in a bout of self-pity, and she asked her: “Who are you shedding these tears for?” Many Christians who have a measure of endurance collapse when they meet the crucial test because they have not taken the precaution to arm themselves as God in His Word has enjoined, and in the hour when they are found wanting, their pride is wounded and the tears of self-pity begin to flow.

The question naturally arises: To what extent should we be prepared to suffer? “Be faithful until death,” says the Word of God (Rev. 2:10). You say that there is a danger of becoming extremists. That is so; but if you have armed yourself with the mind to suffer you will not always be trying to keep the happy medium. You can safely leave it to the Lord and to His church to preserve the balance if you are in danger of losing it. You make it your business to commit yourself to Him to suffer to the death if He so requires, and He will make it His business to guard you from extremes. If you are always wondering how far you should go in this matter of suffering, you will never go very far; you will be tricked into letting the work suffer to preserve your own life.

The mind to suffer is not a wishy-washy idea; it is something virile that enables us to say to the Lord, “Yes Lord, even until death. My life is at Your disposal to do with it whatever may seem good to You.” God needs servants who mean business with Him and who will not hesitate to give up their all, and life itself, for His sake. Let us be done with all our careful calculations and this crippling fear of going to extremes, and let us transact with the Lord to serve Him at all costs “even until death.”

It is recorded in Rev 12:11 of the overcomers: “They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb… and they did not love their lives to the death.” If you fulfill the same conditions, Satan’s assaults against you will be futile. He is impotent to overcome anyone who does not seek to preserve his own life. Satan scoffed at the idea that Job could possibly serve God without any desire for self-preservation, so he said to Him: “All that a man has he will give for his life. But stretch out your hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will surely curse you to your face!” (Job 2:4-5). Satan knew he could overcome Job if Job had the slightest self-interest, so he made a plea for permission to test him out. The record in the book of Job, like that in the book of Revelation, shows Satan’s impotence to overcome those who are utter in their disregard of their own lives. There is a limit to our suffering, but may there be no limit to our will to suffer! If there is any limit there, Satan will sooner or later put us out of commission.

May I ask: Is it the preservation of our lives that matters or the preservation of the Lord’s work? Is it the saving of souls that matters or is it the saving of our lives? Which is more important, to safeguard our personal interests or to safeguard the Lord’s testimony on the earth? Oh, that we, one and all, might shake off our love of self and respond to the Lord as He freshly challenges us to serve Him in utter abandon to His interests! If our abandon to Him is utter, we shall then know the ‘utterness’ of His blessing.

CHAPTER NINE  -  FAITHFUL IN MONEY MATTERS

Reading: Num. 22:1-21; Matt. 6:24; 2 Pet. 2:15; Jude 11; Rev. 2:14; 2 Pet. 2:1-3; 1 Tim. 6:3-10; 2 Cor. 8:1-24.

What should be the attitude of a Christian worker to money matters? This is quite a weighty question, and it touches such practical issues that unless there is clarity here a worker will not make good, for no Christian worker can avoid touching “mammon” (i.e. material wealth, or simply money).

Right at the outset we must realize clearly that mammon stands opposed to God. His servants should therefore be on the alert lest they come under its power, for if it has any power in their lives they will be unable to help God’s people withstand its insidious assaults. Because of the universal problems arising in connection with money, we shall spend awhile talking together about them.

In the first place let us note the relation between money and the worker’s conduct and teaching. In the Old Testament Balaam’s history in connection with God’s people is referred to as an illustration of this, and in the New Testament we come across him again in the same connection. In second Peter we read of “the way of Balaam” and in the book of Revelation of “the teaching of Balaam.” Balaam was a prophet who worked for reward; he commercialized the prophetic ministry. Balak, king of Moab, was bent on destroying the people of God, and he hired Balaam to curse them, but Balaam was not ignorant of the mind of God and he was well aware that the people of God were a blessed people; moreover, God had plainly told him he must not comply with Balak’s request. But that reward lured him. How could he possibly get it? He would try and persuade God to reverse his decision. His plan was carried into effect and was wonderfully successful. God actually granted him permission to do the thing He had previously told him not to do.

Some people erroneously imagine that this episode is an illustration of waiting on God. As a matter of fact, Balaam would never have inquired of God at all had it not been for the hope of gain; and when the result of his first inquiry was a clear refusal, there was obviously no need for a second inquiry. When God ultimately gave Balaam permission to go with the princes of Balak, it was not because He approved of Balaam’s mission, but simply that He allowed Balaam to go his self-chosen way. Balaam undoubtedly was a prophet, but he allowed the subtle influence of money to affect his ministry and lead him far astray.

Any Christian worker who has not settled the financial issue is bound to come under the sway of mammon. When he has to decide where he will work he is sure to be influenced by financial considerations. If he has no guaranteed support in a certain place he will go elsewhere. Being a Christian worker he will, of course, seek guidance as to where he should go, but his guidance is almost sure to be to the place where support is assured. When we pray for guidance the treachery of our natural life is apt to guide us to settle down in places where there is no financial shortage, and to pay scant attention to poor districts and poor people. An elderly Christian once remarked: “How many of the Lord’s servants are swayed by financial considerations! Take note how many poor districts have no resident Christian worker while the more flourishing areas have no lack of them.” Those remarks were crude, but they were sadly true. Alas! Many Christian workers walk in “the way of Balaam.” Their footsteps are set in the direction of gain rather than the will of God, so when they have gone through the accepted form of seeking His confirmation for the way of their choice, He says, “Go!”

Every true servant of God must be utterly free from the bondage of money. “No man can serve two masters… You cannot serve God and mammon” (Matt. 6:24). This matter of seeking guidance of God when in fact we are guided by gain is a despicable thing. If the God we serve is the living God, can we not confidently go anywhere at His bidding? If He is not the living God, why not give up all attempt to serve Him? Oh, the shame of it, that any Christian, under the guise of serving Christ, can serve his own interests!

Peter, referring in his second epistle to some who go “the way of Balaam” writes: “They have a heart trained in covetous practices… They have forsaken the right way and gone astray, following the way of Balaam.., who loved the wages of unrighteousness” (2:14-15). Brothers and sisters, God has set before us “the right way” and we must beware of departing from it lest we stray into “the way of Balaam.” Peter describes the people who walk in the latter way as “having a heart trained in covetous practices.” The root trouble was in the heart. When the habit of covetousness had been secretly developed in the heart, then the hand reached out after the reward, and the feet began to stray from the way of the Lord. It did not all happen in a moment, and there was no outward indication of trouble at first. Even when the heart had been “trained in greed” (RSV), the inward departure from God was well cloaked beneath the outward form of seeking counsel of Him. The Word of God tells us that Balaam “loved the wages of unrighteousness.” He loved that proffered reward and his heart had already gone out after it when he told the princes he could not accept it without first seeking to know the divine will; nevertheless, he promised: “I will bring back word to you, as the LORD speaks to me” (Num. 22:8). How spiritual these words sounded! But Balaam’s heart was “trained in greed”, so when God refused him permission to do what would lead to the coveted reward, he covered his creed with spiritual phraseology in his dealing with the princes of Balak, and then put on a further semblance of spirituality in a second approach to God. Balaam got what he wanted, but with what appalling result! The habit he had been secretly cultivating developed into an open way – “the way of Balaam”.

Brothers and sisters, do you see the course of covetousness? Unless we are enabled by the grace of God to deal with this dangerous heart condition, we shall come more and more under the subtle sway of mammon and eventually be overcome by its power. Jude, writing of some who had gone astray, says that they “have run greedily in the error of Balaam for profit.” These people are not just walking now, they are actually running in this evil way, and this way is a way of “error”.

In Revelation John writes to one of the seven churches: “You have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality” (2:14). We see from this passage that there is not only a “way of Balaam”; there is also a “teaching of Balaam”. A heart that has harbored covetous thoughts has not accepted correction, so the desire for gain has become a confirmed habit; and the hidden habit has soon expressed itself in an outward way; and the way has become more and more defined till it has developed into a formulated teaching.

God’s Word again and again speaks of the awful havoc wrought by covetousness. When Peter writes of “the way of Balaam” he is referring primarily to false teachers, and he warns his readers in these words: “There will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies… By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words” (2 Pet. 2:1-3). Note that when thoughts of gain are harbored in the heart they pervert our teaching. If our audience is of the poorer class our teaching is of a certain kind, but if our audience is of the wealthier class we adapt our style and our matter and pander to them. If we find that thoughts of gain have any power at all to influence our movements or our words, we should bow low before the Lord and seek His mercy. This is a solemn matter.

Paul, writing to Timothy, also speaks of the perils of covetousness. In his first epistle he says: “If anyone teaches otherwise and does not consent to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which accords with godliness, he is proud, knowing nothing, but is obsessed with disputes and arguments over words.., supposing that godliness is a means of gain” (6:3-5). How totally different from Paul those false teachers were! How unsparingly he spent himself and his substance for the sake of the gospel!

Could anything be more base than to engage in Christian work as a source of profit? We, like others, shall fall a prey to this temptation unless we face the matter squarely and settle it once and for all that we will never look on our work as a means of livelihood. Let us shun the thought that “godliness is a way of gain”; but let us take comfort from the assurance that “godliness with contentment is great gain” (v. 6). And let us take to heart the words that follow in Paul’s letter to Timothy – “For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (vv. 7-10).

Now let us turn from the Word of the Lord through His servants to the direct words of the Lord Himself. Luke 9 records His sending forth of the Twelve, and the following chapter records His sending forth of the Seventy. In both instances explicit instructions are given them regarding their equipment, and in both instances the instructions are couched in negative terms. Addressing the Twelve He says: “Take nothing for the journey, neither staffs nor bag nor bread nor money; and do not have two tunics apiece” (9:3). Less detail is supplied in commissioning the Seventy, but the governing principle is the same: “Carry neither money bag, knapsack, nor sandals” (10:4). The emphasis in both cases is alike, i.e., that when the Lord commissions His servants no thought of material things should enter into their calculations.

At a later date the Lord questioned His disciples about their experience when they had gone out at His bidding – “‘When I sent you without money bag, knapsack, and sandals, did you lack anything?’ So they said, ‘Nothing’” (Luke 22:35). But note the immediate sequence. “Then He said to them, ‘But now, he who has a money bag, let him take it, and likewise a knapsack; and he who has no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one’.” Circumstances had changed in the interval. This was the night of the Lord’s betrayal. While the way was still open for the disciples to move freely from place to place the instructions were binding: “Take nothing for the journey;” nevertheless, He legislates for circumstances under which fuller equipment may be called for.

To be an effective preacher of the gospel requires a passion that rules out every other interest. A true preacher of the glad tidings has no anxiety about the journey and no anxiety about his reception at the journey’s end, for with his commission he has received clear instructions regarding both. For the journey his orders are – “Take nothing for the journey;” and when he arrives at destination he has equally explicit orders – “Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house’” (Luke 10:5). How beautiful! Every Christian worker should be a messenger of peace, and every Christian worker should magnify his office. We may be poor, but we should never lose the dignity of our high calling. But what if the people to whom we come refuse to receive us? The Lord has anticipated our question and answered it in Luke 9:5 – “And whoever will not receive you, when you go out of that city, shake off the very dust from your feet as a testimony against them.” Do you see the dignity of the Lord’s servants? There is no self-pity on account of the treatment meted out to them; there is no introspection, no questioning of their guidance; there is nothing negative or weak. They are strong and dignified because all their issues are clear.

Let us learn something more along this same line as we note the Lord’s instructions to His disciples when He fed the multitudes. On one of these occasions He had been preaching to an audience of five thousand, not including women and children. Toward the close of the day the disciples suggested that as they were in a desert place it would be well to send the people away so that they might buy food for themselves in the villages. “But Jesus said to them, ‘They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat’.” (Matt. 14:16). One of the disciples was quite alarmed at the prospect of having to provide food for such a company, and he protested that it would take a considerable sum of money to buy enough to give every one even a little; whereupon the Lord inquired how much food they actually had on hand. They were able to locate five loaves and two fishes which they brought to Him, and with His blessing upon that scanty supply there was abundance for all and to spare. Through this miracle Christ demonstrated to His disciples that worldly wisdom must not be brought to bear on His service. However meager the resources we have on hand, we must be prepared to give and give and give.

People who are always swayed by financial considerations are servants of mammon, not servants of God. But to learn this lesson takes time. The disciples did not learn it all at once, so after the miraculous feeding of the five thousand the Lord brought them again into a similar set of circumstances. On this occasion a company of about four thousand, not including women and children, had followed Him for three days, and He said: “I have compassion on the multitude, because they have now continued with Me three days and have nothing to eat. And I do not want to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way” (Matt. 15:32). It was obvious that the Twelve had not learned their lesson, for their reaction this time was the same as before – “Where could we get enough bread in the wilderness to fill such a great multitude?” Now as then they reasoned about the prevailing circumstances and the lack of supply to meet the demand. But again the Lord simply asked them what they had on hand; and when they produced seven loaves, with His blessing another miracle took place and another multitude ate to the full and left much over.

At Pentecost the disciples were faced with crowds of people in spiritual need; but they had learned their lesson, and reckoning with divine resource they became ministers of eternal life to no less than three thousand souls (Acts 2:41). It was through discipline that the disciples became men that could meet the Lord’s need, and it will not be without discipline that we too shall be equipped to serve Him. We may be as frugal as we like where our own private affairs are concerned, but we must not try to be sparing in the Lord’s service, for that will deny Him the opportunity of working miracles on behalf of the multitudes. Our attempts at frugality will frustrate His purpose and impoverish our own lives. We need to submit to His training who trained the Twelve and trained the Seventy; though even under His training one of the Twelve failed to qualify for service and had to be rejected as a thief. Judas could watch the Lord being anointed with costly ointment and coldly calculate how much help the poor might have had if only the ointment had been sold and the proceeds entrusted to his care. He could only see purposeless waste in this lavish expression of the woman’s love for the Lord, but He assessed it as of the highest value to Himself. “She has done a good work for Me,” He said; and He declared that wherever the gospel would be preached this pure expression of the gospel’s power would be recorded too. (See Matt. 26:10-13.)  As for Judas who had such a perverted sense of values, He sold the Lord for thirty pieces of silver.

Oh! we need not be afraid of extravagance if it is on the Lord we are pouring out our love and our resources. Some people are so afraid of going to extremes that from the outset of their Christian life they can with precision reckon how far they should go in the matter of giving. If in the first flush of our love for the Saviour we can be so calculating, where shall we be when the glow of our early ardor has passed? What a contrast Peter is to Judas! Judas was treasurer for the Twelve, and as he administered the funds he appropriated part of the money for his personal use.

Peter might well have improved his own condition in a day when numbers of people were being saved and were selling their possessions for the common good of the believers. But note what he says to the crippled man at the temple gate – “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk” (Acts 3:5-6). Let us honestly engage in some secular pursuit if we want to study our personal advantage; but if we want to serve the Lord, let us have it settled for ever that our concern is the furtherance of the gospel, not our own advancement.

Let us take a glance at Paul’s life and note his attitude to money. Listen to his defense as he speaks to the Ephesian elders: “I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. Yes, you yourselves know that these hands have provided for my necessities, and for those who were with me” (Acts 20:33-34). Writing to the Corinthians he asks this question:   “Did I commit sin in humbling myself that you might be exalted, because I preached the gospel of God to you free of charge?” (2 Cor. 11:7).

And to them, as to the Ephesians, he makes his defense: “When I was present with you, and in need, I was a burden to no one, for what I lacked the brethren who came from Macedonia supplied. And in everything I kept myself from being burdensome to you, and so I will keep myself. As the truth of Christ is in me, no one shall stop me from this boasting in the regions of Achaia. Why? Because I do not love you? God knows! But what I do, I will also continue to do, that I may cut off the opportunity from those who desire an opportunity to be regarded just as we are in the things of which they boast” (vv. 9-12). Paul did not adopt an independent attitude; he was willing to accept financial help, as this passage itself shows; but even at a time when he was actually in want, he would not receive anything from the Corinthians, because it would not have been in the interests of the gospel for him to do so. There were those in the whole region of Achaia who were seeking to bring his ministry into disrepute, and he was determined to give no occasion to question its character. Was there any lack of love for them in his refusal to accept their support? He answers his own question – “God knows!” Paul was aware of the dignity of his office, and he jealously guarded it. Let us learn of him to refuse any gifts that would cause the character of the ministry to be called in question.

What a burden was upon Paul to preach the gospel! He could do no other, even if he had to work overtime at a trade that he might not make himself a charge on others; and he not only provided for his own support, but for the support of his fellow-workers as well. His acute sense of responsibility never let him rest content with having enough for himself. We come far short as Christian workers if we can only exercise faith for the meeting of our own needs and do not reach out to others in want. We think that as Levites we are entitled to expect God’s people to offer us their tenth; but we are prone to forget that the Levites are in turn under obligation to offer their tenth. Full time Christian workers are in danger of becoming so obsessed by the much they have given up that they always hope to receive, and they are apt to lose all thought of the responsibility and privilege of giving. This attitude is fatal to the spiritual progress of the worker, for every Christian, no matter how small his income, should always be a giver. Only to receive, without giving, will inevitably lead to stagnation. And if we bear no financial responsibility for others, God will entrust little to us. In his second Corinthian letter Paul uses this phrase “as poor, yet making many rich” (6:10). Oh, this man knew his God! No matter how deep his own need might be, he was always concerned about the enrichment of other lives, and the amazing thing was that he was always in a position to enrich them.

Brothers and sisters, if in any place the character of the ministry entrusted to you is called in question, then for the honor of the ministry you dare not accept support. You must make your position perfectly plain, and when you have refused support you must still remember your obligation to others. If you hope to increase your income, then increase your output. The experience of many of the Lord’s children confirms His own word – “Give, and it will be given to you” (Luke 6:38). This is a divine law and we violate it to our own hurt. The Christian manages his affairs on a basis diametrically opposed to that of the non-Christian. The latter saves in order to increase; the former increases by giving. The Christian may not increase his bank balance by giving, but he is able thereby in ever increasing measure to share Paul’s experience, “as poor, yet making many rich”.

At the close of his second letter to the Corinthians, writing of his hope to visit them soon, Paul says: “Now for the third time I am ready to come to you. And I will not be burdensome to you; for I do not seek yours, but you. For the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children.” (12:14). Note how frequently in his letter to the church in Corinth Paul speaks of his attitude to financial matters, but again and again as he refers to his own position he takes the opportunity to instruct them; otherwise they might well have thought he was adopting an independent attitude because he was offended by the criticisms of himself and his ministry. Though the special circumstances in which Paul was placed made it necessary for him to refrain from receiving financial help from them, he was in such clarity and such release that he could encourage them to send help to the needy saints in Jerusalem and could also boast of their liberality to the churches in Macedonia. Paul personally did not need their money, but there was need of it elsewhere, and Paul desired that they should give bountifully for their own enrichment as well as for the enrichment of others.

May I ask if, as you move in and out among the Lord’s children you, like Paul, can always differentiate between “you” and “yours”? In all your communication with them are you wanting “them” or “theirs”? If they regard you with suspicion and withhold “theirs” from you, can you still unreservedly give “yours” to them, or does your desire to minister to them wane when there is no stimulus from their side? From the natural standpoint Paul would have had ample justification for leaving the Corinthians alone, but he could not let them go, and for the third time was planning to visit them. He refused “theirs”, but he still wanted “them”. How truly he sought “them”, not “theirs”, becomes increasingly apparent as he opens his heart to them in his letters. The sequel to the passage we have quoted is in the same strain: “I will very gladly spend and be spent for your souls; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I am loved. But be that as it may, I did not burden you. Nevertheless, being crafty, I caught you by cunning! Did I take advantage of you by any of those whom I sent to you? I urged Titus, and sent our brother with him. Did Titus take advantage of you? Did we not walk in the same spirit? Did we not walk in the same steps?” See Paul’s heart-attitude here! How he poured himself out for the Corinthians! And how he poured out his substance too! We are unworthy of our high calling as preachers of the gospel if we cannot put all we are and all we have into this business.

Note, on the other hand, that Paul did accept the financial help sent from Macedonia, and under normal circumstances it is right for a Christian worker to receive contributions from his fellow Christians.  Paul did not indiscriminately accept gifts, nor did he indiscriminately refuse them. He had spiritual perception, and where the spiritual condition of the giver was right he was a grateful receiver. May we too discern between what we should accept and what we should reject, and be delivered from the all too common attitude of welcoming all gifts that come our way.

Let us turn to Paul’s letter to the Philippians and see his attitude as he receives offerings from the saints there. This is how he writes to them: “Now you Philippians know also that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church shared with me concerning giving and receiving but you only. For even in Thessalonica you sent aid once and again for my necessities. Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that abounds to your account” (4:15-17). Paul gratefully acknowledged the offering from the church in Philippi; but even as he did so, he declared that his main joy in receiving their gifts was not the enrichment they brought to him, but the enrichment they brought to themselves, the givers; and he immediately added this remark: “I have all and abound”. What a contrast to the usual report when gifts are acknowledged! Too often thank-you letters stress the greatness of the need that is still unmet, with the conscious or unconscious intention of stimulating further generosity. Let us read Paul’s words again and make them ours: “I have all and abound.” There is not the remotest hint of need here. On the contrary, there is everything to convey the impression of utter satisfaction. What an exquisitely pure spirit Paul has!

How released he is from the servitude of mammon! But let us read on: “And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” Paul expresses appreciation of all the material help that has come to him through the Philippian saints, but he never loses sight of the glory of his office. He sacrifices nothing of spiritual dignity even when he acknowledges his indebtedness to them. He does not attach himself to the gifts or the givers.  He freely expresses his appreciation, but he makes it plain that he recognizes these gifts as given to God – “a sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God.” Nevertheless, because he is a partaker of their offering to God, he offers them a blessing beyond all their own giving – “My God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” What a wealthy man Paul was! And what wealth he bestowed on others! May we share this man’s singleness of heart and join him as he adds: “Now to our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.”

Finally, let us see Paul’s attitude in relation to church funds. In 2 Cor. 8:1-4 he writes: “Moreover, brethren, we make known to you the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia: that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded in the riches of their liberality. For I bear witness that according to their ability, yes, and beyond their ability, they were freely willing, imploring us with much urgency that we would receive the gift and the fellowship of the ministering to the saints.”

Paul, having learned of the famine in Jerusalem, had informed the brethren in Macedonia of the need there. Though they themselves were almost in financial straits, they were so moved by this news that they denied themselves in order to send relief to their brethren, and gave gladly even beyond their means. Their giving was clearly not under the constraint of duty, for we are told that they earnestly entreated the apostle to grant them the favor of ministering to the needs of the saints in Jerusalem. They were so truly bound up in the bundle of life with their fellow-saints that their predominant consciousness was not their own immediate need, but the need of distant members of the Body of Christ. The fact that they had to implore this favor shows that the apostle hesitated to encourage their self-denial because their own need was so acute; but their importunity overcame his reluctance.  Their attitude was beautiful, but so was Paul’s. Being in a position of responsibility Paul dared not ignore the need of the local brethren in his eagerness to relieve the brethren elsewhere; but they were so released from the sense of their own need and so truly burdened by the need elsewhere, that he could not but recognize the working of corporate life and grant their request. What a beautiful picture of the relationship between a servant of God and those he sought to serve! We who call ourselves Christian workers should not leap at the sight of money offered by the saints for our own or others’ need, but should have due regard for the circumstances of the givers, lest in their concern for fellow-saints they go too far in depriving themselves.

Paul, having approved the contribution from the saints in Corinth to the saints in Jerusalem, now guides them in the collection of the offerings and the conveying of it to destination. We can profit here again by this same letter to the Corinthians: “Thanks be to God”, he writes, “who puts the same earnest care for you into the heart of Titus.., being more diligent, he went to you of his own accord. And we have sent with him the brother whose praise is in the gospel throughout all the churches, and not only that, but who was also chosen by the churches to travel with us with this gift, which is administered by us to the glory of the Lord Himself.., avoiding this: that anyone should blame us in this lavish gift.., providing honorable things, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men. And we have sent with them our brother whom we have often proved diligent in many things” (8:16-22). Note how careful Paul was in this whole procedure. Have you observed that he did not handle the money himself? It was Titus who was made responsible for the collection. And two brothers who were held in high esteem were appointed to accompany him – “the brother whose praise is in the gospel throughout all the churches” and the brother “whom we have often proved diligent in many things.” The administration of church funds should never be left to one person; it should always be attended to jointly by at least two or three persons.

Because of the need of extreme care over money matters, Paul, writing both to Timothy and to Titus, declares that no covetous person should be allowed to hold the position of elder in a local church (1 Tim. 3:3; Tit. 1:7). And in 1 Tim. 3:8 the same stipulation is made regarding the position of a deacon. No man is qualified to occupy a position of responsibility in the church who cannot handle money faithfully. Peter writes in the same strain as Paul: “Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly” (1 Pet. 5:2).

Covetousness is a trouble that calls for drastic dealings, and unless we solve this problem fundamentally we shall get into difficulties sooner or later. By the grace of God may we come to a clear issue regarding all our financial affairs; and may we be enabled to take responsibility before Him not only for the meeting of all our own material needs, but also for the meeting, in our measure, of the needs of our fellow-saints.

CHAPTER TEN  -  LOYAL TO THE TRUTH

Reading: Jn. 8:44; Matt. 12:19; 2 Tim. 2:24.

Absolute loyalty to the Truth is a matter that must have priority in the life of every Christian worker. It is possible, and indeed it not infrequently happens, that a worker modifies the Truth because he is influenced by men, or by circumstances, or by his own desires. The truth is absolute, and it demands undeviating loyalty of all men under all circumstances. All we possess we can sacrifice if need be, but the Truth we dare not sacrifice. We must never seek to bend it to our purpose, but must always bow to it. We are all prone to ignore the Truth when it clashes with our personal interests. If we find ourselves in a dilemma, or if calamity strikes the family circle, or if a close friend is in distress, how swift we are to waive our convictions in order to save ourselves from an awkward situation, or to save our loved ones from any trouble that can be averted by accommodating the Truth to prevailing circumstances!

For instance, the son of a Christian worker expresses his desire to be baptized. If his father is out to uphold the Truth, he will pass his son on to the leading brethren in the church, as he would pass on anyone else’s son, and leave it to them to decide whether or not he is a fit subject for baptism; but as this particular candidate is his own son, he tries to make certain modifications in his case. He is set on having his son baptized; he is not set on upholding the Word of God. If his primary concern were to uphold God’s Word, he would be delivered from bias regarding his son and would be perfectly open to the judgment of others.

Take another illustration. In a certain place a doctrinal controversy arises. A number of the saints are favorably disposed toward one particular worker and side with him, whereas quite a number have a preference for another worker and line up on his side. Sadly, neither party is absolutely committed to the Truth, because both have compromised on the ground of personal attachment. Oh! how insidiously our affections influence our decisions, so that we pervert the Word of God instead of capitulating to it.

The standard of the divine Word must not be lowered to harmonize with our standards. We dare not tamper with it in any way even when it shows up our deficiencies; we must proclaim it as it stands – eternally unchangeable and invariably transcending our understanding and attainment. We must still uphold it even if it contradicts our experience and baffles our intellects. And we must above all beware of expounding it in one way when it affects other people, but toning it down when it has to be applied to ourselves, or our families, or our friends.

Let us take warning, for there is a subtle snare here. Many difficulties crop up in the churches because Christians sacrifice the Truth rather than their own personal interests. One of the members of a certain local church intimated that he was not coming to the meetings any more because something had arisen in the church of which he had not been informed. What had that brother seen of the absolute nature of the Truth? If it was right for him to sever his connection with the other brethren, then even if they had informed him he was under obligation to do so; and if it was wrong for him to sever connection with them, then he had no right to break fellowship on the ground of their failure to notify him about some church matter. If we are in an association that is not in harmony with God’s revealed purpose, we must forsake that position: if, on the other hand, our position is in keeping with His purpose but involves us in trouble, we dare not trifle with the Truth and justify ourselves in leaving on account of difficulties. Who are we that we insist on having deference shown us by our fellow-Christians? And who are we that we dare set God’s Word aside because it involves us in awkward situations? Oh! we are far too big and far too bold. Unless our self-life is shattered, we shall never become true servants of God. We must learn to regard His Word dispassionately, whether its acceptance is to our advantage or disadvantage. If only we saw the nature of God’s Word we should not always be obscuring its glory by dragging ourselves into view. May we be saved from our presumption!

Let us illustrate again. A brother had heard a certain local church adversely criticized in some quarters; but later he identified himself with that church, and in his contacts with the believers there he always expressed himself favorably, though he had never honestly looked into the situation but was just feeling his way among the believers and being generally polite. After a time one of the brethren, discerning his spiritual condition and wanting to help him, dealt with him faithfully, “speaking the truth in love.” He at once took exception to what was said and separated himself from the company, spreading abroad all sorts of disparaging tales about them. That brother lacked a fixed attitude toward the Truth and could therefore twist it when it affected his personal comfort. If he had honestly inquired into the Truth and committed himself to its implications, he would have taken a firm stand against that company from the very outset if the Truth so required; but if the Truth required his identification with them, even the sternest personal correction could not have caused him to sever connection with them.

Let us illustrate once more. A Christian worker who has a gift of leadership felt led to take a certain course, and being a leader, it inevitably happened that others took the same course. If the way that leader decided to go was right, it was not his going that way that made it right; and if the way was wrong, his going that way could not make it right, no matter how earnest a Christian he might be. If at a later date this man should fall into sin, his sin would not make the course he adopted a wrong course. Bear with me if I say yet again that the Truth of God is absolute, and it is not the fact that this one or that one supports the Truth that makes it so: it is inherently so. But there is a tendency with us to fix our gaze on men and to conclude that if someone we think spiritual goes a certain way, that must be the right way; and if someone who is in a bad spiritual state takes a certain course that course must be wrong. Are you going to give up being a Christian because some Christians of your acquaintance are such a poor lot? Are you going to repudiate Christianity because some Christians fall into sin? Will you cease to trust the Lord because of the failure of some who profess to trust Him? Surely not. If the Lord is trustworthy we shall still trust Him. The question is not one of men’s reactions to the Truth, but of the Truth itself.

Some brothers have said to us: “How I thank God for leading me to these local gatherings! I have received much help here.” We are not unduly elated by such remarks. They are no indication that the absolute nature of the Truth has been recognized. The possibility is that the people who pass such remarks come simply because the meetings appeal to them. But just wait awhile till something transpires that does not meet with their approval and see if they do not pronounce the place all wrong.

If a place is right, it is right; if it is wrong it is wrong. It is not its favorable or unfavorable treatment of me that makes it right or wrong. The Truth must be the sole determining factor in all our associations; but if that is to be so, then this self that warps our judgments will have to go. The numerous divisions in the church and the many dissensions in the work would be eliminated if only our personal preferences could be eliminated. If we would simply capitulate to the Truth, irrespective of its effect on ourselves, not only would the problems in the church and in the work be solved, but our personal problems would end too. Of course, we would never entertain the thought of abandoning the Truth; but we allow a slight deviation here and a slight deviation there, and gradually the Truth ceases to make an impact upon us. The result is that we lose our sense of direction and drift hither and thither. If people treat us well we walk in the way the Lord has shown; if people treat us ill we seek another way. How self-important we are! We occupy the place the Truth should occupy. We make ourselves the pivot of the universe, and everything is made to hinge on its relation to us.

O, brothers and sisters, it is the Truth that matters, not its effect on puny creatures like you and me. It may demand of us that we forsake the happiest of personal relationships for constant association with incompatibles. It is not happiness in our environment that proves our association right, nor natural incompatibility with our associates that proves it wrong. Let us settle it once for all that the Truth is ultimate and must govern all our associations and all our judgments. Even in earthly courts the personal preferences of the judge are not allowed to influence his judgments. He cannot obey the dictates of his heart and refuse to pronounce his own son “guilty” if the law proves his guilt; and he cannot refuse to pronounce his enemy “not guilty” if the law so requires. The law is absolute, and the judge has to subject himself to it.

If as a body of fellow-workers we would unconditionally subordinate ourselves to the Truth, how swift and smooth our deliberations would be, and how the work would prosper! When our one consideration is the Lord’s will, we shall be saved many fruitless discussions and shall speedily reach clear conclusions; till then we shall spend much precious time discussing our individual opinions, and we shall have to study our words and resort to diplomacy in order to please everyone. We shall always be stopping to consider if brother A. would take offense in the event of our doing such-and-such a thing, and if brother B. would refuse to co-operate if we took a different line, and what concessions it might be necessary to make in order to conciliate brother C. Even if our careful consideration of one another’s opinions and our constant adjustment to one another’s convictions should save us from positive disagreement, what have we gained if we have compromised the Truth?

If instead of pandering to one another and drafting plans and policies to preserve the peace among this band of fellow-workers, each one of us would accept the Truth as final and humbly subject himself to it, the blessing of the Lord would rest upon the whole company. Oh, that we might make it our one concern to discover the will of God and simply do what He says! Let us make this our serious business. But let us remember that in the work of the Lord there is no place whatever for our soulish activity. It may be with earnest desire for the prosperity of the work that we bring our influence to bear on other lives; and we may even succeed in influencing them to accept the Truth, but the end does not justify the means. The Truth is far too great to need our manipulation of it. We can well trust its inherent authority to make its own impact. Our part is in humility of heart to take our right place in relation to it.

© PRESSING ON!, Apartado 31, 29700 Vélez-Málaga, Spain; e-mail: presson@telefonica.net.
This e-booklet is one of a growing number (in English and Spanish) on the NTMU website:
www.ntmu.net

Copyright is granted on the condition that the contents of the entire e-booklet are left intact, i.e. without any change, including this permission and the above information.