A Minister and his Ministry

A gift by definition is something obtained with no effort, with no charge. It is freely, graciously given. So when we speak of someone having a “gift” for speaking, or a talent of one kind or another, it is usually something that we can admire, maybe envy, but there is no way to imitate it or develop it.

In the world at large, we have a tendency to admire those with certain abilities and gifts. Sometimes these ones, as believers, will use their gift (whether spiritual or otherwise) on behalf of God. And to varying extents, God accepts and even blesses these ones in their endeavoring to be vessels of mercy useful to the Master. In the first epistle to the Corinthian believers, Paul addresses these ones who were desperately seeking spiritual gifts. Though the gifts do have their proper place and function in the church (12:4-11), and though there are greater gifts and lesser gifts (12:31), and though Paul encourages them to seek earnestly the greater gifts (such as prophesying, 14:1), when we compare the depth of this epistle with what is revealed in Paul’s second epistle to this same locality, we realize that there is something deeper than just the gifts that God has given to the Body. The apostle Paul may have been a very special and gifted member of the Body, but even more than that, he was a minister ministering the new covenant ministry. This ministry is one produced by gaining the experiences of the riches of Christ because only the riches of Christ can produce this ministry.

How are these experiences gained?

The only way that they are gained is through sufferings, consuming pressures, and the killing work of the cross.

A minister of the new covenant, therefore, is a person who through sufferings, consuming pressures, and the killing work of the cross has experienced the riches of Christ and has had this suffering Christ reproduced in him. Paul was such a person. In Colossians 1:24 he writes of making up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ for His Body. Paul’s suffering was a gaining not only for Paul but for the whole Body. As he suffered, he became the sorrowful grapevine through which others were able to receive the supply of cheering wine. Like Paul, so many other believers throughout the ages have been willing to be stripped of all their human glory, dignity, fame, and fortune so that from their experience of death the resurrection life would flow. Watchman Nee was another believer who was produced as a minister of this new covenant. We see his experience in Hymns #635,  “From the branches of the grape vine/ Sap and blood and wine doth flow./ Does the vine, for all it suffered,/ Lost, and yielded, poorer grow?/ Drunkards of the earth and wanderers,/ From it drink and merry make./ From their pleasure and enjoyment/ Do they richer thereby wake?/ Not by gain our life is measured,/ But by what we’ve lost ’tis scored;/ ‘Tis not how much wine is drunken,/ But how much has been outpoured./ For the strength of love e’er standeth/ In the sacrifice we bear;/ He who has the greatest suff’ring/ Ever has the most to share.” What channels of blessings these saints have been to the entire Body.

Today, there is a crucial need in the Lord’s Recovery for those who would be willing to be produced as ministers of the new covenant; for those who would be open to gain the riches of Christ in their experience through sufferings, consuming pressures, and the killing work of the cross.

Lord, make us persons full of grace in sufferings, persons filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, persons through whom others can perceive and touch grace even in the human phrases, in the most human way. May the suffering Christ be reproduced in us for the building up of the Body of Christ and the consummation of the New Jerusalem.

Life of Sufferings

It is a well established fact that our human condition is one of suffering. The only thing worse than suffering is the desolation of going through our suffering alone. It is a comfort of exceptional magnitude to know that our God is one that is touched by the feeling of our weakness. Today, having passed through pain and suffering of the acutest kind He is seated at the right hand of God interceding for us in our hour of need. Because He is our great High Priest and also our Pneumatic Comforter we have a friend to whom we can confide all the worries in our heart, all the needs of our soul, all the anxieties which vex and trouble our mortal bodies. He inclines toward us His listening, loving ear, hearing all our sighings, and even our complaining. Yes, in fact, He loves to hear us complain to Him because through each heaving breath He is able to sooth our bruised souls and tenderly add more of His life element into us. I have always enjoyed this fact, that I have someone to whom I can complain about everything.

Today, however, I read this:

“The first important lesson we must learn is that whenever we are in a situation of suffering ordained by the Lord, we must acknowledge God’s sovereignty. If we do not acknowledge God’s sovereignty in our situation, we cannot be at peace. Instead, we will be resistant and unhappy, we will protest and complain that things are not fair. Our being will be in a state of turmoil, and we will begin to doubt God because of the sufferings that we are passing through. However, once we touch God in His sovereignty, everything will change. We will feel as if we have emerged from night to day. The outward situation may not have changed, but our knowledge of God’s sovereignty will cause everything within us to be different. Acknowledging God’s sovereignty is a great lesson that we all must learn. It will cause us to be at peace, to be obedient, and to say Amen to our situation. After all, our situation has been raised up for us under God’s sovereign hand. In this way we can see beyond our present situation, see God’s hand, and even realize God’s mind.” (Crystalization Study of the Psalms (1) msg 11.)

Yes, the Lord is there when we are complaining to Him, He listens, He cares. But I realized after reading this that if we are so busy complaining about our situation, we are not open to listening to what He has to say to us. However, if we acknowledge, in whatever situation we are in, His sovereignty over that particular situation, we become open to receiving His speaking, we are open to seeing beyond what lies just in front of us and we see God’s hand, we can apprehend God’s mind. In this way we can enter into the very heart and mind of God, we can know all His secrets, even all that is in His heart for us.

How do we become this type of person? Just grin and bear it? Just religiously repeat a mantra of “God is sovereign, everything happens for a reason, etc”? No. But there is a person whose life was a life of suffering, whose life was plagued with sorrows, and yet someone whose entire being was always submissive and obedient to God even unto death. We see this man in Psalm 69 (vs 1-3; 19-20): “Save me, O God; for the waters/ Threaten my life./ I sink in deep mire,/ And there is no place to stand;/ I have come to the depths of water,/ And the flood flows over me./ I am weary of my crying;/ My throat is parched;/ My eyes fail/ While I wait for my God…You know my reproach/ And my shame and my humiliation;/ All my adversaries are before You./ Reproach has broken my heart,/ And I am sick;/ I looked for pity, but there was none;/ And for comforters, but I found none.” This was the life of the Man of Sorrows. In his epistle to the Philippian believers, Paul writes: “To know Him.” This is to know the Man of Sorrows. Today this is our desperate need. To know, in a deep and experiential way this person. Know Him and the power of resurrection because it is only through His life and the power of His resurrection life that we can look at our complicated situation, at our sufferings, our problems and acknowledge the sovereign hand of God working in that very thing to gain every inch of our being.