God's work today is not being done in the way that Jesus and the apostles did it. Money has become the most important factor in Christian work today. But money was never a factor for the Lord and His apostles.
Is it possible to do God's work today in the same way as it was done by Jesus and the apostles? The answer is YES. And Zac Poonen and his coworkers have proved that during the last 43 years.
Zac waited 43 years to write this book - since he did not want to write about unproven theories. What he learnt in these years about God's way of building new-covenant churches has made him a debtor (he says) to all believers, to share with them what God has taught him. This book is his effort to clear that debt.
This book is meant for all who have a passionate longing to walk as Jesus walked, to build godly families and to build new-covenant churches for the glory of God.
If I had been living in Noah's time, the top priority of my life would have been to use all my spare time to help Noah in building the ark - because I would know that the ark was the only construction that would survive God's judgment at that time.
Even so, I see now that the top priority for me on earth must be to build the church of Jesus Christ. This is because the church alone will remain when God finally destroys this present world. If you are wise, you will also do the same.
Christian Work Today versus the New Testament Standard
When we compare much of the Christian work being done on earth today, with what we see in the New Testament, we see a vast difference. Very few are seeking to build the church according to New Testament principles. In fact, most Christian leaders seem to consider it impossible and impracticable to follow those principles in our day and age. And so, we see most Christian work being done in the same way that worldly corporations do their work - and in a very different way from the way that the apostles worked.
To give just a few examples:
- Churches hire Pastors in the same way that companies hire CEOs.
- Churches pay Pastors in the same way that companies pay their CEOs.
- Most Pastors choose the church that has the greatest prestige and offers the highest salary, just like business executives choose whichever company has the greatest prestige and offers the highest salary.
- Money is as important in church-work as it is in worldly companies.
- Education in Bible-seminaries has become essential for Christian work just as college-education is essential for employment in companies. (By this standard, none of Jesus' 11 disciples would have qualified for any Christian work today!)
- Most Pastors follow worldly management techniques to run their churches, instead of seeking for the anointing and guidance of the Holy Spirit.
- And many similar examples.
All this and much more that we see in Christendom today is the very opposite of what we see of God's plan for the church, in the New Testament. The church is imitating the world - and so, spiritual death rules in most churches, even though some of those churches are mega-churches with many thousands of members and thoroughly evangelical in doctrine. Babylonian Christianity is a huge set-up. Its doctrines may be evangelical but its life and priorities are wrong. And so, it will be totally destroyed by God one day (See Rev.17 and 18).
Many Christians misunderstand Matthew 7:1 ("Judge not") and say that we should not criticize anything wrong that we see in other Christians and churches. That sounds like "spiritual" advice - but it is not. In Revelation chapters 2 and 3, we see the Lord Jesus telling John to write to five churches and their leaders criticising numerous things that He saw wrong in them. And those letters were not to be kept confidential. The Lord told John to circulate those letters to all the churches in that area, so that everyone would know the condition of those backslidden churches and heir leaders - and take warning themselves. To one church and its leader, the Lord asked John to write saying, "You only have a name that you are alive, but actually you are spiritually dead" (Rev.3:1). To another church and its leader, the Lord's message through John was: "You are spiritually wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked" (Rev.3:17). The Lord inspired Paul also to write to the Christians at Corinth and in Galatia, pointing out numerous things that were wrong in their churches (See 1 Corinthians and Galatians). That is God's way.
The Lord Jesus is the same today - and as the Head of the church He continues to send such messages exposing error, to Christian leaders and churches, through His servants. But the Lord knows that (as in the first century, even so today) most leaders will not accept His corrections; and so His final word is, "He who has a ear let him hear what the Spirit is saying" (Rev.2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22). A few will hear what the Lord is saying, but most will not.
In May 1966, when I resigned my career as a naval officer, at God's call, to enter into full-time Christian service, I was under the impression that everyone engaged in Christian work was a heavenly-minded, Spirit-anointed person. But within a few years I realized that I was mistaken.
I found very few Christian workers working like the apostle Paul - who supported himself financially, planted and built up local churches and sought nothing for himself . What I saw instead were preachers who sought for money, honour and fame. Most of them sought their own gain - just like Demas, in Paul's time (2 Tim.4:10). Selfless men like Timothy were rare in Paul's time (Phil.2:19-21); and they are rare today as well.
In January 1975, God met with me and filled me afresh with the Holy Spirit. This led me to seek Him earnestly to live the life of triumph that Paul experienced and speaks about in passages such as these: "Always in triumph in Christ" and " More than conquerors in Christ" (2 Cor.2:14; Rom.8:37).
Seven months later (in August 1975) we started a meeting in my home for any who were interested in coming together for fellowship and to seek God for power to live an overcoming life. In the succeeding years, some would come and go. But a few stayed on. We were called separatists and heretics by other Christians. But those labels did not disturb us, because we knew that Jesus and Paul were also considered as separatists and heretics in their lifetime. In fact, many of God's greatest servants, whom we recognize as prophets and reformers today, were considered as separatists and heretics in their lifetime.
We met many times each week in my home. Slowly the Lord changed us from being just "a fellowship of believers" and formed us into a new-covenant church. For seven years the Lord kept us tucked away in one corner of Bangalore in India, giving us time to experience the reality of new-covenant Christianity.
Then, from 1983 onwards, the Lord began to plant a number of new-covenant churches across India - in its poorest villages and its richest cities. Some years later, He took us to other countries as well, where He planted similar churches.
The powers of darkness have attacked us in numerous ways. But they have never been able to prevail against the church that the Lord built in our midst.
I waited 43 years to write this book - because I did not want to write about unproven theories. The Lord's blessing upon our ministry, the amazing revelations He has given me from His Word and the numerous churches He miraculously planted, have all made me a debtor to all believers, to share with them what I have learnt of God's ways in building new-covenant churches.
This book is an effort to clear that debt.
This book has been written for those who have a passionate longing to follow the example of Jesus in their daily life and to follow the example of the apostles in building new-covenant churches for the glory of God.
"Jesus first DID and then TAUGHT" (Acts 1:1).
Under the old covenant, the message that the prophets preached was far more important than the life they lived in private. But when Jesus came, He lived the life first and then preached only what He had done.
The old covenant invitation of the prophets to " Come and hear the message of the Lord" has been replaced now by the invitation of new-covenant Christians to "Come and see how the Lord has changed our lives".
In the new covenant, we must first experience God working in our lives, before we can teach His ways to others. This applies both to living the overcoming life as well as to serving the Lord in building local churches.
Jesus said that the church He built would overpower the forces of darkness (Matt.16:18). Paul poured out His life to lead believers to an overcoming life and to build this church. So did Timothy.
There are two parts to the great commission that the Lord gave His apostles.
1. Preach the gospel to all people (Mark 16:15, 16).
2. Make disciples and teach them everything that Jesus taught (Matt.28:18-20).
Jesus said that the first part (evangelism) would be followed by supernatural signs (Mark 16:17, 18). The second part (making disciples), He said, was to be followed, not by supernatural signs, but by teaching the disciples to obey all His commands (Matt.28:20). Evangelism (making converts) is being done by many believers around the world. But the second part (making disciples) is largely ignored.
Many evangelists and missionaries are going after the one lost sheep to bring it back to the fold - which is good. But unfortunately, the fold into which the lost sheep is brought back does not usually comprise of "99 righteous people who need no repentance " (as Jesus said in Luke 15:7). Many Christian "sheepfolds" are full of people, defeated by anger, sexual lust, the love of money and many other forms of carnality, who often need more repentance than that one lost sheep!
So the great need is to lead the 99 sheep within the fold to genuine repentance and a righteous life, so that the lost sheep can come into a godly fold. Otherwise, that one sheep can get infected with the diseases that the 99 sheep in the fold, have!
So the Lord called us in our church(Christian Fellowship Church, CFC Bangalore, India) to emphasize discipleship and obedience to all of Jesus' commands. We still did evangelism - and our numbers have grown from less than 10 people in one church in 1975, to many thousands of believers in a number of churches today. But after evangelizing, we lead the converts to become disciples. And then we teach the disciples to obey all of Jesus' commands.There are seven important truths in the second part of the great commission, given in Matthew 28:18-20:
1. "All authority in heaven and earth belongs to our Lord". It is on this basis that we are to go forth and make disciples. We are not to go into all the nations because we see a need among the people anywhere. No. We are to go because Jesus has all authority in heaven and earth; and we, being under His authority alone, go wherever He tells us to go. And His authority will then protect us and preserve us, wherever we go. If we don't believe this, we should not go, because we will not be able to fulfil God's will.
2. "Make disciples". We must not compromise in proclaiming the three conditions of discipleship (that Jesus stated in Luke 14:26, 27, 33), which are: Loving Jesus - more than one's relatives, more than one's Self-life, and more than one's possessions.
3. "In all nations". We must reach as many parts of the world as possible, in every way possible, with this message of discipleship. We must not be satisfied with having made just a few disciples in our home-town.
4. "Baptize them in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit." We must unashamedly proclaim God as a Trinity - and we must baptize only those who want to be disciples of Jesus - and not those who merely want their sins to be forgiven.
5. "Teach them to obey everything that Jesus taught". We must teach every disciple how to obey every commandment that Christ preached.
6. "I will be with you", says the Lord. We are to do this ministry in partnership with our Lord - and we can be certain that He will fully support us with His presence and His power, in our ministry.
7. "Till the end of this age". We can be certain that He will continue to support us until the end of our lives. But we must keep on doing all of the above also, until the end of our lives.
The Lord Works in Just the Same Way Today
The Word of God says:
"Remember your leaders who taught you the Word of God…...
Think of all the good that has come from their lives…….
Trust the Lord as they did - because Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever…...
And don't be attracted by strange, new ideas….." (Heb.13:7-9 - Living).
We sought to follow the above verses exactly:
- We accepted the first apostles as our leaders who have taught us the Word of God.
- We saw in the pages of the New Testament the good work that they did.
- We trusted the Lord as they did, and so,we saw a similar work being done in our midst also - because Jesus Christ is the same today as He was then.
- We did not allow ourselves to be drawn away by the " strange new ways" of doing Christian work that we saw in Christendom around us.
We hope your faith will be strengthened to believe that God can do a similar work through you as well - because there is no partiality with God. He is a Rewarder of all who seek Him diligently - in every place and in every generation (Heb.11:6).
Following the Example of the Apostles
The Holy Spirit inspired the apostle Paul to tell us in his letters about how the Lord enabled him to live by a higher standard than that of most of the other preachers of his time. He said, "This boast of mine will not be silenced. I will go on doing what I am doing - and I do it to cut out the ground from under the feet of those who boast that they are doing God's work in just the same way we are. God never sent those men at all; they are "phonies" who have fooled you into thinking they are Christ's apostles" (2 Cor.11:10-13 - TEV and Living).
When Paul compared himself with other preachers of his time, it was not empty boasting. On the contrary, it was a powerful testimony that brought great glory to God; and it challenged the believers of his time to follow his example.
There is a world of difference between this spiritual boasting of Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit (that all who do God's work must have) and the carnal boasting of the Pharisee (Luke 18:10-14) inspired by spiritual pride (that we must all detest).
The Holy Spirit inspired Paul to say "Follow me as I follow Christ " (1 Cor.11:1; Phil.3:17). Paul's life and ministry have therefore been given to Christians as an example to follow. How did Paul fulfil his new-covenant ministry?
Paul had a unique calling from God. His ministry was two-fold:
1. First of all, he wasa pioneer evangelist who proclaimed the gospel in places where people had never heard of Christ. He said, "My ambition has been to preach where the name of Christ has never yet been heard, rather than where a church has already been started by someone else" (Rom.15:20 - Living).
2. Secondly, Paul was an apostle who planted new-covenant churches in places where there were only old-covenant gatherings of people existing. To the Corinthian church he said, "I betrothed you to one husband, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to Christ" (2 Cor.11:2)
Following Paul's example in the first part of his ministry: Many godly missionaries, through the centuries, were called by God to pioneer evangelism, and have followed Paul's example and proclaimed Christ where He was not known; and done this at great personal cost. And many more missionaries (who are not so well known) are doing this even today. I praise God for all of them and I have the greatest respect for them. I could not do this myself, because God did not call me to be a pioneer evangelist . The well-known evangelists of today however, are not doing pioneer evangelism like Paul did. They are all preaching the gospel in areas where there are already thousands of Christians and many churches.
Following Paul's example in the second part of his ministry: God called me and our churches to fulfil the second part of Paul's ministry - to plant new-covenant churches, where there were old-covenant churches. That is all that I can write about - because that is what the Lord has done through us.
There were two dangers that Paul saw and avoided, in his ministry of planting new-covenant churches:
The danger of money : Jesus said that we could not serve both God and money (wealth) (Luke 16:13). And so first of all, Paul sought to eliminate the power of money over his life and ministry, so that he could serve God alone. We have sought to follow Paul's example here.
The danger of human domination : The second danger is that of man replacing Christ's headship in the church. Paul had a God-given apostolic authority over the churches that had been planted through him. But he was careful to stay within the boundary of that authority and to ensure that the elders and believers in the churches had a direct connection with Christ as their Head. We have sought to follow Paul's example here, as well.
Overcoming the Danger of Money
1. Paul supported himself financially and was not dependent on any man for his livelihood (Acts 20:33, 34). A servant of the Lord can certainly be supported by those he ministers to (1 Cor.9:6-14). But to show himself as different from the covetous, money-loving preachers of his time, Paul decided to support himself (1 Cor.9:15-19; 2 Cor.11:12,13). We found most "pastors" in India also to be covetous, greedy and money-loving. And so, in order to be different from them, ALL of us elders in all our churches decided to support ourselves financially, and not be dependent on any man for our livelihood. And that is how all of us have worked all these years.
2. Like Jesus, Paul never mentioned his financial needs to anyone but God. He encouraged believers instead, to give money to the poor (1 Cor.16:1, 2; 2 Cor.8, 9). Our churches have also followed that example. We have never mentioned any of our needs to any human being. And we have given millions of rupees to help poor believers. Jesus told us to give our offerings secretly (Matt.6:4). So we have never once passed an offering-bag around to collect money, in any of our churches, in all these 43 years. We keep offering-boxes near the exit-doors of our meeting-halls, so that believers can give their offerings secretly (as we read in Mark 12:41-44). God loves only cheerful givers (2 Cor.9:7). So we havenever once asked anyone to put moneyin the offering-boxes. All giving in our churches has been voluntary. We have had over 200 conferences in India that thousands of believers have attended. In all of them, we have followed Jesus' example of feeding the multitudes freely, without asking anyone for any money.
3. Paul never asked anyone for money even to spread the gospel. He never sent out any reports of his work to people hinting about the need for money for his work. We also have never asked anyone for money to spread the gospel. We have never sent out a single report of our work to anyone, anywhere, in all these 43 years. The Lord Himself has prompted believers to support our work, without any human prompting. We have followed Jesus' example and Paul's example in the way they received gifts for the Lord's work (as we read in Luke 8:2, 3; 2Cor.11:7-9; and Phil.4:12-19).
4. Paul did not accept gifts from anyone and everyone, for his ministry . He accepted gifts only from some believers (Phil.4:15-19). He had some principles that determined from whom he would accept gifts . As a church, we have followed the same principles. We formulated a list of five questions for everyone to ask himself before he gives any money to our churches:
(i) Are you a born-again child of God? It is a great honour and privilege to support the work of God on earth; but that privilege is given only to His born-again children ( 3 John 7 ).
(ii) Do you have enough money for your family's needs? Are you sure that your giving will not put your family under any financial strain? You must take care of your family's needs first (See Mark 7:9-13 and 1 Tim.5:8 ). Our Father in heaven is very rich and He (like any rich earthly father) does not want any of His children to starve or suffer in any way, just because they gave Him money for His work.
(iii) Do you have any large debts to repay? If so, do clear those debts first. God wants His children to live restful lives, free from all debt (See Rom.13:8 ). We must first give to "Caesar" what is his, before we can give anything to God, because God does not want us to give Him "Caesar's" money, or anyone else's money. Jesus made that very clear in Matthew 22:21 . (Note: A house-loan is not a "debt" - in the meaning in these verses - because the house is an asset that you possess that is equal in value to the loan taken. For the same reason, a vehicle-loan is also not a debt - if the vehicle is insured for the value of the loan taken).
(iv) Do you have a clear conscience? Have you done your best to be reconciled with those whom you have hurt in any way? God will not accept any offering from anyone who has hurt someone and still not apologised to that person ( Matt.5:23 , 24 ).
(v) Are you giving freely and cheerfully - and not under pressure from anyone or even from your own conscience? God loves cheerful givers, not reluctant givers. He does not want gifts from those who give under pressure, or who give in order to fulfil some obligation, or who give merely to ease their conscience, or who give in order to get some reward from Him in return ( 2 Cor.9:7 ).
This list is on our website: http://www.cfcindia.com/our-financial-policy
5. Paul urged believers never to be in debt (Rom.13:8). Allour churches too have managed their affairs without ever being in debt to anyone at any time. We have had to build many church buildings in different parts of India, as our numbers have increased in those places. Butwe have never borrowed money (not even from a bank) to build any of those church-buildings. We built them only when we had saved enough money to build them. (With our financial policy, as stated above, no bank would ever have given us a loan, in any case!).
6. Paul never took any royalty for his writings - unlike Christian authors nowadays, who make millions of dollars in royalties through their writings. Our church has published more than one million copies of our books (30 titles) in many languages thus far. But we have never taken any royalty for any of our books . Like Paul did, we also have offered our writings freely for everyone to read - in our case, on our website ( www.cfcindia.com). We have also offered more than 1000 of our video-sermons on our website (and on YouTube), in a number of languages, for anyone to watch and download freely.
7. Jesus and Paul would have opposed the dowry system prevalent in marriages in India, where the bride's father has to pay a huge amount of money to the bridegroom's father. This evil practice is practiced by Christians of all denominations in India. But we have stood against this dowry system totally. At every wedding, we take written statements from the bridegroom and the bride, stating that their parents have not given or received any dowry .
The Danger of Human Domination
1. Paul appointed elders (plural) - and not a pastor - in every church that he planted (Acts 14:23; Tit.1:5). This prevented one man from dominating the church. And those elders were all selected from within the same church. So all the elders knew their flock well - and thus could easily be their spiritual "fathers". We have done the same in all our churches too. We haveno pastors in any of our churches.We appoint elders - and all the elders are selected from the same local church. No-one has ever been brought in from elsewhere to lead any church.
2. Paul never established any central headquarters for the churches he planted - because the churches were not a denomination. Each local church was led by elders who were under the headship of Christ alone. We have followed the same pattern. As soon as a church is established firmly, we hand over its leadership to local elders. They decide all matters concerning that church and they manage their own finances. There is no central headquarters for any of our churches. And like Paul did in his letters to the churches, we have also given advice and oversight to the elders, constantly. Spiritual authority has never been imposed by us on any elder, but offered only where it is voluntarily sought for and joyfully accepted.
We have sought with all our hearts to follow the example set by our Lord Jesus and the apostle Paul, in all areas of our work. And we have found that it is possible to follow New Testament standards, even in our day and age.
Thus we have manifested through our ministry that Jesus Christ is indeed the same yesterday, today and forever.
A Small Part of God's Work
We recognize that what we are doing is only a small part of the different and varied ministries that there are in the Body of Christ in the world today.
But every ministry must still operate by the standards and principles of God's Word, exemplified and taught by Jesus and His apostles.
We do not judge the churches and ministries that do not follow these New Testament standards, because everyone has to answer to God alone finally. We in CFC however, have wanted to be a living testimony to the fact that the standards that our Lord and His apostles taught in His Word can be followed today, even in a poor country like India, where 98% of the people are non-Christian!
We have never been interested in gathering large numbers of people to join our churches, because our Lord said that the way to life was narrow and very few would find it (Matt.7:14). Our aim has therefore been to find only those few. We have not looked for people who want to go to heaven when they die, because everyone on earth wants to go to heaven. We have looked only for those who want to follow Jesus as wholehearted disciples here on earth before they die. So our churches are not mega-churches - and never will be.
Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, said that we could build churches, (symbolically speaking) either withgold, silver and precious stones or with wood, hay and straw (1 Cor.3:12-15). One can build a massive structure (a mega-church) if we don't preach the conditions of discipleship and holiness of life. But that would be like building with wood, hay and straw. The fire will burn up such a work completely in the day that God judges all believers - as the above verses state. But a small work built on the proclamation of discipleship and total obedience to all of Christ's commands - with gold, silver and precious stones - will pass through the fire untouched and remain for eternity. The wise Christian will therefore seek for quality in his work, and not numbers.
We could easily (in a false humility), have kept quiet about all that God has done in our midst. But then:
1. We would be robbing God of the glory due to Him; and
2. We would be robbing other believers of the challenge to live and work by New Testament principles and standards in our day.
We need to emphasize what the Lord has done in our midst, for yet another reason: The next generation of the Lord's people needs to understand these principles and live by them - so that they too can be as salt that has not lost its taste, in their lifetime.
Paul did not keep quiet about what the grace of God had wrought in him and through his ministry. Neither will we. And so, we will also say, as Paul did: "This boasting of ours will not be silenced" (2 Cor.11:10) .We will continue to do what we are doing, to prove that the Lord's work can be done even today by the same principles that the first apostles practised.
The fundamental principle of all effective ministry is the principle of the incarnation. By that I mean the example set by our Lord Himself, when He gave up heaven's glory and lived on earth as a Man.
Paul prayed thus for the Colossian Christians: "We are asking God that you may see things, as it were, from His point of view" (Col.1:9 - J. B. Phillips)
God wants to renew our mind (change our way of thinking) so that we begin to think more and more in the way He thinks and to gradually see every person, thing and circumstance from His viewpoint. This is what it means to be changed into the likeness of Christ and to walk as Jesus walked (1 Jn.2:6). Our transformation into the likeness of Christ begins in our mind (Rom.12:2).
Jesus Came to Earth like us
We will not be able to accept the challenge to walk as Jesus walked unless we are first convinced from Scripture that He came to earth exactly like us.
Hebrews 2:18 says, "He (Jesus) had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God".
Phil.2:6, 7 says, "He (Jesus) existed in the form of God, but did not regard equality with God a thing to be held on to, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men".
In His Person, Jesus was still God when He was on earth, proved by the fact that He accepted worship (as recorded 7 times in the gospels - Matt. 8:2 ; 9:18 ; 14:33 ; 15:25 ; 20:20 ; Mk.5:6 ; Jn.9:38 ). But He gave up the powers He had as God when He was on earth and accepted the limitations of man.
In John 6:38, Jesus said, "I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me."
Throughout eternity, Jesus being equal with the Father and the Holy Spirit, worked together with them always. Their united will was always the same.
But when Jesus came to earth as a Man, He had a will of His own, just like all human beings have. (This is what the New Testament means when it says that "Jesus came in the flesh"). There is nothing sinful about having one's own will. Adam had his own will when God created him, and he was without sin then.
But Jesus never did His own will. He did His Father's will always. Thus He never sinned. We see this most clearly in His prayer in Gethsemane where He said, "Father, not as I will - but as You will…Your will be done" (Mat.26:39, 42). When God rent the veil in the temple (Matt.27:51), He was symbolically demonstrating that Jesus had rent the veil of His flesh (died to His own will) faithfully throughout His earthly life and thus "inaugurated a new and living way for us" to walk in (Heb.10:20). This death to man's self-will is the cross that Jesus bore every day and that He now asks us also to bear every day (Luke 9:23).
There are some groups in Christendom that falsely teach that God is not Three Persons but just one Person with three titles. They teach that Jesus Himself is Father, Son and Holy Spirit - and so they baptize people in the Name of Jesus only - contrary to Jesus' command in Matthew 28:19 to baptize in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. They don't realize that thereby they are denying that Jesus came in the flesh. If Jesus and the Father were the same Person, then in Gethsemane, Jesus would have been praying to Himself! That is ridiculous! And His statement in John 6:38 would then sound like this: "I have come down from heaven, not to do My will, but to do My will"! That too is ridiculous! So those who deny the Trinity are actually denying that "Jesus came in the flesh". And that, John says, is the spirit of the antichrist (2 John 1:7). We must beware of such false teaching.
If someone comes to your church who was baptized in the Name of Jesus only, you must show him that he had thereby unknowingly rejected the Father and the Holy Spirit. He should then be baptized correctly, as Jesus commanded in Matthew 28:19.
For a fuller explanation of the humanity of Jesus, you can read more at:
Jesus Was Tempted as We are but Did Not Sin
The Bible says in 1 Timothy 3:16 that the secret of godliness lies in "Christ Who came in the flesh and kept his spirit pure". And it says there that " the church is to be a pillar and support of this truth" (1 Timothy.3:15).
The Living Bible paraphrase of that verse reads:
"It is quite true that the way to live a godly life is not an easy matter. But the answer lies in Christ, who came to earth as a Man and was proved spotless and pure in his spirit."
That verse goes on to say that the apostles " preached this among the nations" of the world then. But this truth is opposed by many Christians today. They say that Jesus could not have sinned. If so, then He was not tempted like us. But Hebrews 4:15 says that Christ was tempted like us at every point. And Hebrews 2:17 says that it is because He was tempted exactly as we are, that He can run to assist us when we are tempted. Satan wants to rob us of this strength and comfort, when we are tempted.
The godly A. W. Tozer wrote in relation to this subject, as follows:
"If any person can be removed from the possibility of sin, he or she can only be some kind of a robot run by pulleys, wheels and push-buttons. A person incapable of doing evil would be, by the same token, morally incapable of doing good. A free human will is necessary to the concept of morality. I repeat: If our wills are not free to do evil, neither are they free to do good. "
That is why I cannot accept the premise that our Lord Jesus Christ could not sin. If He could not sin, then the temptation in the desert was a farce, and God was a party to it. No. As a human being He could have sinned, but the fact that He would not sin marked Him as the holy Man He was.
It is not the inability to sin that makes a person holy, but his unwillingness to sin. A holy person is not one who cannot sin but one who will not sin.
A truthful person is not one who cannot talk. He is one who can talk and could lie, but will not.
An honest person is not one who is in jail where he cannot be dishonest. An honest person is one who is free to be dishonest, but who will not be.
(From A.W.Tozer's book: Tragedy in the Church - The Missing Gifts - Chapter 7)
Every person who is honest with the Scriptures, and not prejudiced by his own traditions, and not afraid of the opinions of others, will acknowledge the truth that " Jesus was tempted in all points exactly as we are tempted; but He did not sin " (Heb.4:15).
We need to distinguish between temptation and sin. Jesus was tempted "in every respect as we are". But He never once yielded to temptation (even in His mind) and so He never sinned. In other words, He never did His own will or sought His own pleasure even once (Rom.15:3).
All temptation is an invitation to please ourselves and to do our own will, in different areas. A person sins only when he yields to that invitation and does his own will. The word "lust" in Paul's writings just means "strong desire", and not evil desire. For it is written that even "the Holy Spirit lusts against the flesh" (Gal.5:17 - KJV) - which just means that the Holy Spirit has a strong desire against our self-will.
When this self-will is yielded to, then it conceives and gives birth to sin (James 1:15). If however, we deny our will, then we do not sin. As an old saint once said, " I cannot prevent the birds from flying over my head, but I can prevent them from making a nest in my hair ". When an evil thought presents itself to us, if we cherish it even for a moment in our minds, we allow it to "make a nest" there and then we sin. But our Example is Jesus, Who was tempted exactly as we are, but never sinned.
The Test of Loyalty to Christ
If God sees that a believer is not earnest about godliness, or that he is a coward, afraid to stand up for the truth (that he sees in Scripture), fearing criticism from others, then God will hide this truth from him - for it is called "the secret of godliness" (1 Tim.3:16). God reveals His secrets only to those who fear Him (Psa.25:14). It is dangerous to be a coward in the things of God, for " the cowardly" are listed in Revelation 21:8, as the first persons to be sent to the lake of fire - even ahead of " murderers, immoral persons, sorcerers and idolaters"!
Martin Luther said:
"If I profess loudly to believe every portion of God's truth, but keep silent on that particular truth which the devil is attacking at this time, then I am not really confessing Christ. It is at the point where the battle is fiercest at present, that the loyalty of a soldier is tested. And to be faithful in all the other areas of the battlefield is worthless and disgraceful, if the soldier does not stand firm at the present point of conflict."
It is around the truth that " Christ was tempted exactly as we are but did not sin" that the battle has been fiercest for the past 43 years against our churchesin India. But we have stood as " a pillar and support of this truth" (1 Tim.3:15) and proclaimed it boldly and unashamedly. And we have seen the result in numerous transformed lives.
Notice in 1 Timothy 3:16 that the secret of godliness is not in"the doctrine of Christ coming in the flesh"but in "the Person of Christ Who came in the flesh". Many have become Pharisees by looking at this as a doctrine, and not looking at the Person of Christ Himself. "The letter (even of correct doctrine) kills. The Spirit alone gives life" (2 Cor.3:6). We are to point people to Christ Himself and not to any doctrine.
To confess with our spirit (and not just with our mind - 1 John 4:2 ) that Jesus came in the flesh, means first of all, that we believe with all our heart, that He was tempted just like we are, that He did not have access to any more of the power of the Spirit than we have access to, and that we can walk as He walked, if we are wholehearted (1 John 2:6).
It also means that our spirit longs to follow in His footsteps - never wanting to seek our own and never wanting to do our own will.
We need the revelation of the Spirit to understand the education (in obedience to His Father) that Jesus learnt during His earthly days, through His temptations. It is written that "although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered" (Heb.5:8). He was utterly faithful in His battle againstevery temptation. He was also faithful in "pouring out His soul-life to death" (Isa.53:12 - KJV). Thus the fulness of God's life was manifested through His body. Very few come to the point where they pour out their soul-life also to death, in their pursuit of sanctification, because very few are faithful in God's sight, in battling against all known sin in their life, first of all.
I have laboured this point in this section, because many believers are missing the will of God in their lives because they have not understood this truth about the new and living way that Jesus made for us through His flesh (Heb.10:20). Jesus said that we must know the truth first and then "the truth will set us free" (John 8:32).
Jesus is Our Elder Brother
Jesus is our Elder Brother (Rom.8:29) and God loves us as He loved Jesus (John 17:23). Since there is no partiality with God (Rom.2:11), we believe that:
1. God will do for us younger brothers and sisters of Jesus all that He did for Jesus. So He will free us from the power of sin.
2. God will care for us as He cared for Jesus. So He will free us from all fear and anxiety.
Our two greatest problems on earth are sin and fear. Freedom from both of these comes through seeing that Jesus was tempted in these two areas as we are, but did not sin and was never afraid or anxious. Now we can indeed walk as Jesus walked (1 John 2:6).
Here is a hymn that God helped me to write when I was gripped by this truth in 1977:
"When bowed with burdens and with care
Your soul is in despair,
You don't have to fear,
God is very near.
He loves you as He loved His Son
And He will help you too,
Just trust His word of promise
And He will see you through.
This is the good news - what God can do
What He did for Jesus, He'll do for you.
With mighty power He'll strengthen you
There is no end to what God can do.
Though sin and evil fill this world
And you are overcome,
Yet God's word is true
"Sin can't reign o'er you".
And when temptation's pull is strong
God's grace will be your stay,
So you can walk like Jesus
In vict'ry every day.
When pain and sickness come to you
And touch your loved ones too,
God knows how you feel,
He has power to heal.
Your Father will provide your need;
He's faithful and He's true,
And as He cared for Jesus
He will care for you.
O what a glorious comfort this
If you have come to know
Jesus as your Lord
And Elder Brother too.
For all God has is now your own
And He won't let you go.
And now that God is for you
Who can be your foe?
Seven Areas Where We Must Follow Jesus
First of all , Jesus sought the glory of His Father in all that He did (John 7:18). His greatest desire was not even the good of the human race (however good a motive that might have been) but the glory of His Father's Name (John 17:4). He lived before His Father's face, and He sought to please His Father alone in everything. He spoke God's Word standing before His Father, and not before the people who were listening to Him. He served the Father primarily, not the people.
This is how we have to serve God too. We are not called to be servants of the church first, but servants of the Lord. The first prayer that our Lord commands us to pray is, "Father, Hallowed be Thy Name." If we seek to serve people, we will end up as men-pleasers, building a reputation for ourselves.
Secondly , Jesus gave up everything - all that He had - for the sake of the church. There was nothing that He held back when it came to laying the foundation of the church. "Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her" (Eph.5:25).
His death is described in Isaiah's prophecy thus: "He died without a thought for His own welfare" (Isaiah 53:8 - Message paraphrase). Think of that: He lived and died without a single thought for His own welfare! He gave himself completely for the church. This is the way that He calls us to walk as well - and only those who are willing to walk this way can build a new-covenant church.
To build such a church, we must be willing to suffer many inconveniences in our lives. We must be willing to have our daily routine disrupted, to be taken advantage of by others, to have our earthly possessions used by others, and to accept every type of pressure without complaint.
Thirdly , Jesus entered into our sorrows. He identified Himself with us completely. In order to help us, even though He was the Son of God, He had to receive an education Himself first, of learning obedience through suffering (Heb.2:17; 5:8). It was thus that He became our Forerunner (Heb.6:20).
We cannot help others, if we are unwilling to suffer and learn obedience in the midst of our trials. We are called to be mini-forerunners for our brothers and sisters in our churches - and not just preachers. And that involves going through many painful and difficult circumstances and trials so that, as we experience God's encouragement and strengthening in all those situations, we can have something life-giving to give to others - and not just a message that we got through studying the Word, or reading a book, or listening to a sermon (See 2 Cor.1:4).
Fourthly , Jesus carried His disciples constantly on His heart. It was their good that He always sought. This had two aspects to it:
(a) He had a servant-attitude towards His disciples at all times. He never expected anything from them, but always thought of how He could bless them and help them;
(b) He exhorted His disciples with what was profitable for them, even if it had to be strong words of rebuke - because He sought their eternal good and not a reputation for Himself as a gentle person.
We should be able, like Paul, to say to all to whom we have ministered the Word, "I have never taken advantage of any of you. I have never desired your money or your gifts. I have never desired anything of yours, but only you. I kept back nothing of God's counsel, that was profitable for you" (Meditate on these verses: 2 Cor.7:2; Acts 20:33; 1 Cor.9:15; Phil.4:17; 2 Cor.12:14 and Acts 20:20).
The Old Testament prophets thought much about Israel's condition in God's presence, before they spoke to Israel. God can give a prophetic ministry only to those who think much about the needs of others in the presence of the Lord, and who care for their sorrows and their problems.
We must use our minds to put ourselves in the place of others to try and understand what they are going through. We must visit the homes of those who are poorer than us, and fellowship with them, so that we can enter into their trials. Otherwise our ministry will not be relevant to their needs and problems.
Fifthly , Jesus lived the life first and only then did He speak about it. The 'sermon on the mount' (Matthew chapters 5 to 7) was not the result of a message that He had prepared the previous night. No. It was the result of thirty years of living the type of life that He spoke about in that sermon.
This means, for example, that we should never preach in such a way as to give others the impression that we have entered into a life of rest, if we actually haven't. But we should at the same time, be thoroughly ashamed of ourselves if we do not have an earnest longing to enter into such a life. We must mourn and seek God's face until we have a burning passion to enter into such a life. Then we can speak with authority.
We must humble ourselves at all times, and speak only about those things that have already become our life, or at least, that we are working towards, with all our hearts.
Sixthly , Jesus never wanted to do everything Himself. He involved others even in the miracles that He did - when serving the wine at Cana, when feeding the five thousand, and even when raising Lazarus from the dead. He asked the others in each case to do the easy part while He Himself did the difficult (impossible) part! He finally told His disciples that they would do even greater things than He ever did (John 14:12).
This is the pattern that we must follow, if there is to be a balanced Body-ministry in our local churches. Only thus can God's purposes be fulfilled through our churches. God has given each member of Christ's Body a particular upbringing and a specific spiritual education through all that He has taken them through. Thus each of them has a unique contribution to make to enrich the church. All that the brothers and sisters in a church have suffered in order to be faithful to the Lord is their contribution to the wealth of a church. And so, a church will be poor if the brothers and sisters are not encouraged to share what they have learnt from the Lord in their trials. You should not hinder the ministry of others, by having such high thoughts about yourself and your ministry that you imagine that you alone can bless your church.
Seventhly , Jesus constantly sought His Father's face in prayer for help for His life and for His ministry. We must seek the Lord in earnest prayer, if our ministry is to be effective. We must seek Him earnestly for the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and not depend on our own wisdom and abilities, if we are to build the church the way the Lord wants it to be built.
Holiness and Love
As we pursue holiness and an overcoming life, we must never forget what Jesus demonstrated by His life - that true holiness is always manifested in a fervent love for others.
In 1 Thessalonians 3:12,13 Paul says, "May the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all people…. so that He can establish your hearts without blame in holiness before our God and Father".
The more uncompromisingly we stand for God's truth and holiness as Christians, the more loving we should be to all people - especially to those who disagree with us. Otherwise we will be living in self-deception and our Christianity will be counterfeit.
"If I speak with human eloquence but don't love, I'm nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate.
If I speak God's Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, but I don't love, I'm nothing.
No matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I'm bankrupt without love
Love doesn't want what it doesn't have.
Love doesn't have a swelled head.
Love doesn't fly off the handle (lose its temper).
Love doesn't keep a list of the sins of others.Go after a life of love as if your life depended on it - because it does."
(1 Cor.13:1 to 14:1- Message Paraphrase).
In this new-covenant age, our Lord desires "a pure testimony in every place" - in every nation from the east to the west - as prophesied in Malachi 1:11. This was the verse that the Lord gave us as a goal to pursue, when He started our church in Bangalore in 1975.
Satan's chief aim is to corrupt the testimony of a spiritually-minded church, rather than to prevent any increase in the numbers of those attending it. In fact, it may suit Satan's purpose quite well to allow larger numbers to join such a church, because he can then infiltrate that church more easily through carnal believers and corrupt its testimony.
It is a battle to keep any church pure for the Lord. It is easy to begin well and then, after a while, to lower the standards and gradually degenerate into a dead church. This is where we must be spiritually alert and aware of the schemes of Satan. This alertness and awareness can be sharpened only as we take heed to our own lives first of all.
We cannot prevent carnal people from attending our church-meetings. Jesus Himself had a Judas Iscariot sitting in His "church" of 12 people. And the church Paul planted in Corinth had numerous carnal people in it. Our churches may also have carnal people in them. That cannot be avoided.
But what we must ensure is that the leadership of the church is always in the hands of spiritual men. And we must also ensure that the message proclaimed in the church is always the pure, new-covenant message.
Paul told Timothy to take heed to himself first (1 Tim.4:15, 16). Those who are faithful in cleansing themselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit (2 Cor.7:1), will thereby obtain a spiritual sensitivity to the wiles of the enemy. There is no other way. Knowledge of the doctrine, eloquence and even spiritual gifts are of no use here, for our battle is not against flesh and blood, nor even against intellectual forces, but against evil spiritual forces that are waiting to deceive those who can be deceived.
Humble Leaders for whom the Church is First Priority
Jesus said that He would build a church that the powers of spiritual death would not be able to overcome (Matt.16:18). Only the Lord can build such a church. We cannot. We can, at best, be but instruments available for Him to use, as He wills. The government of the church, however, must rest upon His shoulders alone (Isa.9:6). We must never forget this. If the Lord does not build the church, then all our labour will be in vain (Psa.127:1). Those who imagine that they themselves are building the church of the Lord in any place are unconsciously in fellowship with Nebuchadnezzar, who said, " Is this not Babylon which I myself have built?" (Dan.4:30). Such pride can only produce a Babylonian, worldly "church" (Rev.17:5).
God is looking for humble leaders. He is also looking for those who will seek His kingdom first - those for whom building the church is theNumber One priority in their lives,as the ark was for Noah. Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it (Eph.5:25). If we love the church, we too will give ourselves and all that we have, completely for it. Those who value their secular occupation above the building of the local church need never expect to build anything other than another Babylon. That does not mean that we should give up our secular occupations. No. Nowadays, it is best that we are self-supporting, like the apostle Paul was, because that is a good testimony before non-Christians who accuse all Christian workers of doing their job for money. But the kingdom of God must be uppermost in our thinking, even while we work in our secular occupations.
God will test us to see if His church is the first priority in our thinking and in our lives, before He will support us in building His church.
We must never be interested in multiplying our numbers - either of believers or of churches. We must be interested only in a pure testimony for the Lord. This is what God Himself is interested in too. Jesus taught us that our first prayer to God must always be "Hallowed be Thy Name", and not "Increase our numbers". It is far better to have no church at all in a place than that to have one that is impure - and thus a bad testimony for Christ.
The two greatest needs among shepherds of God's people are a greater reverence for God and a greater humility.
Leaders with a Spirit of Sacrifice
The true church can be built only by those who, like Jesus, are willing to give up everything for it.
"Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it" (Eph.5:25). Everyone who wants to build the church today must pay the same price - the total sacrifice of one's self-life every day. There is no easier way to build the Body of Christ.
We see this principle from the beginning of man's history.
Cain brought just "an offering" to God - and God rejected it. Abel however brought " the very best of his flock" - and God accepted it (Gen.4:3-5). Cain symbolises religious Christians who bring offerings to God that cost them very little or nothing. Abel however, symbolises spiritual believers who bring offerings to God that cost them everything.
When Abraham offered Isaac on the altar on Mount Moriah, at God's call, it was the most costly sacrifice that he could ever have offered. He was following in Abel's footsteps (Gen.22).
A thousand years later, David offered a sacrifice at the very same spot on Mount Moriah (at the threshing floor of Araunah) and said these words of total commitment, "I will never offer to God that which costs me nothing" (2 Sam.24:24).
God saw the costly sacrifices that Abraham and David had offered and told Solomon to build His temple at the exact spot where these two men had offered their costly sacrifices - the threshing floor of Araunah on Mount Moriah (See 2 Chron.3:1).
God was thereby showing that His house can be built only by people who have this spirit of total sacrifice. They alone will build the Bride of Christ - Jerusalem (Rev.21:2). All other Christians will build Babylon the harlot (Rev.17 and 18).
Cain and Abel started these two streams - of religious people and spiritual people. These two streams were seen later in the false prophets and the true prophets in Israel's history; and in the Pharisees and Jesus; and will finally end in Babylon and Jerusalem (Rev.17, 18 and 21).
Leaders who See the Glory of Jesus
Many believers are eager to see visions of angels and of the physical Person of Jesus. Our passion, however, must be to see the glory of Jesus' life - in the way He lived on earth. This is the Example for us to follow.
Paul said: "In my flesh dwells nothing good........ O wretched man that I am " (Rom.7:18, 24). This is what gave him a burning passion to cleanse himself thoroughly. This revelation of the corruption of our flesh is what we need too. Only then will we seek to " cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and perfect holiness in the fear of God " - and thus preserve the church in purity (2 Cor.7:1).
The pure doctrines we believe and preach can easily degenerate into a form of godliness, without the power, if we think of them merely as doctrines. They must be far more than mere doctrines to us. They must become revelation to us - a revelation that keeps increasing in our life. The more faithfully we face and fight against temptation in the different areas in our life, the more we shall receive the revelation of the Spirit on many areas of un-Christlikeness in our inner life - that we need to cleanse ourselves from.
Without such a continuing revelation, it will be impossible to build the church - the body of Christ. The 'holiness' that we acquire without this revelation of the corruption in our flesh, will only be like that of the Old Testament saints (at best) - the external righteousness of the Law. This may get us a reputation with our fellow-believers, but it will not be "perfect in the sight of God" (Rev.3:1, 2).
If we are not 'seeing' Jesus as our Example in the moments of temptation, we must reckon that we are backsliders.
Teachings That Build a Pure Testimony
Jesus told us to make disciples everywhere - and not just converts.
So to have a pure testimony, we must, first of all, teach the conditions for being a disciple clearly, to all who want to be a part of our church; and how discipleship should affect our personal life, our family life and our church-life".
We must begin with teaching from Luke 14:26 to 33, where Jesus gave the three essential conditions for being His disciple:
1. We must love Jesus more than all our family members, relatives and brothers and sisters (Luke 14:26). None of them must be permitted to hinder us from doing what the Lord wants us to do.
2. We must love Jesus more than our Self (Luke 14:27). Our Self-life must be denied and crucified daily - many times daily (Luke 9:23), when we are tempted.
3. We must love Jesus more than all the earthly things that we possess (Luke 14:33). God permits us to have many earthly things. But we must not be possessive about any of them. They must all be held in an open palm - as God's property.
Secondly , we must explain extensively and clearly, all that Jesus taught and warned about in the sermon on the mount (Matt. 5, 6 and 7). Jesus concluded that sermon with three illustrations:
(a) His teachings in this sermon describe the narrow way that leads to eternal life (Matt.7:14).
(b) Only by obeying His teachings in this sermon would His disciples become fruitful trees for the glory of God (Matt.7:16-20).
(c) Only by obedience to all that Jesus taught in this sermon would His disciples be able to build their personal life, their family life and their church on an eternally unshakeable foundation (Matt.7:24-27).
Thirdly , we must encourage everyone in the church to seek God to be filled with the Holy Spirit - since it is impossible to live up to the standard mentioned above, in our own strength. But this is possible through the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8; Eph.5:18)
Fourthly , we must lead every believer to know God as their own Father in Heaven, so that they find their security in Him, in the midst of an uncertain and evil world.
Fifthly , we must teach people the great truth that Jesus "was made like us in all things" (Heb.2:17) and was " tempted exactly like us in all points" (Heb.4:15), so that they can all have faith that they too can "walk as Jesus walked" (1 John 2:6).
We spent many months studying these important truths of Scripture when we started our work. And we saw the excellent results that followed.
Only thus can we build a pure testimony for the Lord - a new-covenant church.
Leaders who are Spiritual and not Soulish
The strong, 'pious' desires of our soul (our mind and our emotions) must also be put to death if we are to build the church. The Word of God seeks to divide between soul and spirit in our lives (Heb.4:12). These soulish desires can be compared to the good sheep of Amalek that Saul never killed - and because of which he lost his throne (1 Sam.15:15). They do not look as ugly as the desires of our flesh (the bad sheep of Amalek that Saul did kill). Therefore they are more dangerous - for they are more deceptive.
Satan's aim is to corrupt the church - not by obvious sin necessarily, but in subtle ways - by human cleverness, emotionalism and other forms of soulishness. We can get taken up with projects that come from our clever minds, that are not "born of God", and thus be led off on a tangent. Jesus said that every project not "born of God" will be pulled out by God one day and destroyed (Matt.15:13).
Our ministry can become richer and more prophetic only as we are faithful in judging ourselves in these areas. All preaching that comes from human cleverness can only bring spiritual death. All working up of people's emotions will also bring spiritual death. Many unfortunately, cannot distinguish between the workings of human emotions and the workings of the Holy Spirit. We must get light on any soulishness that there is in our ministry. Otherwise, with all our good intentions, we will still pollute the church in a subtle, unnoticeable way.
Since we are all basically clever - with the cleverness of the flesh - there is a constant danger that we will bring our 'soul-power' (our human cleverness and jokes) into our messages. I would encourage you to read and meditate on 1 Corinthians 2:1-5, to understand why the clever Paul had to be in fear and trembling, whenever he ministered the Word. He was afraid of depending on his clever mind. And so he urges us "to become fools, in order to be truly wise" (1 Cor.3:18).
There is a world of difference between 'the burden of the Lord' and 'a bright idea'. The burden of the Lord is something that crystallises in our minds after much prayer and the Lord's discipline of our lives. A bright idea on the other hand, may be merely something clever that we want to share with others in order to get honour. To be free from honour-seeking in our preaching is a long-drawn-out battle. But we must fight that battle wholeheartedly and become totally free.
God will give us light on these workings of our soul-life, if we are faithful in fighting known sin first, and if we walk in humility before His face at all times. There is no other way to discover them.
If we don't keep increasing in our personal devotion to our Lord, we will gradually become backsliders, we will have no anointing on our words, and we will never build the Body of Christ anywhere.
For a clearer understanding of the difference between soul and spirit, you can listen to my message on the subject here:
Leaders who Walk the Way of Death to Self
Jesus taught that there was only one guaranteed way of bringing forth fruit in our lives - and that is by falling into the ground and dying to Self, just as a grain of wheat dies and brings forth fruit (John 12:24).
God sees whether we are faithful in our daily lives to die to Self. No-one else sees that. If God has placed difficult people around you, remember that He has done so to give you many opportunities to die to yourself. So love those people and bless them. In your daily occupations, you will find ample opportunities to die to Self, if you are really serious about being saved from the corruption that is in your flesh.
We have to be careful that we do not lead people into a human righteousness. Our calling is to partake of the Divine nature and to lead others to partake of the same as well (2 Pet.1:3). The only way for this is by bearing "the dying of Jesus, at all times, in our body ". It is with this end in view that God " delivers us to death constantly" (See 2 Cor.4:10-12).
Those who are satisfied merely with living a 'good life' that is better than that of the Christians in other churches, will never rise higher than the righteousness of the Law. They will not lead others any higher either. This is why we must place no value on the testimony of men applauding our righteousness. Seeking honour for ourselves and for our goodness and righteousness, is the very essence of Phariseeism, and is the very opposite of the Spirit of Christ. Therefore it is of the spirit of the antichrist. This has to be put to death ruthlessly if we are to be overcomers. Very few are faithful in this matter. But you must be among those few.
Many may get offended with us, if we speak constantly about the way of the cross (death to Self) - but that should not stop us from preaching it. Those who get tired of hearing this message thereby prove that they are not really hungry and thirsty for righteousness. God will allow such people to get offended and fall away.
Preachers who seek honour for themselves will continually yield to the lust to satisfy itching ears, by thinking up something 'new' to preach on, each time (2 Tim.4:3, 4; See Acts 17:21). We must however, continue to proclaim the word of the cross - which is foolishness to the natural mind, but which is the very power of God to those who desire to "walk even as Jesus walked" and who want to " purify themselves as He is pure" (1 John 2:6; 3:3).
Moving From Babylon to Jerusalem
In the book of Daniel, we see the beginning of the movement of God's people from Babylon to Jerusalem. This is a type of what we see today of God-fearing people moving out from compromising Christendom to God's new covenant church, responding to God's call that says, "Come out of Babylon, My people" (Rev.18:4).
That movement in ancient Babylon began with one uncompromising man - Daniel. He was concerned about God's purposes and fasted and prayed for their fulfilment. The building of a pure church for God in any place usually begins with one man who has a burden of prayer before God that says, "Lord, I want a pure church in this place for You, and I am willing to pay any price for it." You may have to carry that burden for a long time before you see its fulfillment. We have to carry this burden in our hearts, just like a mother carries a baby in her womb. That was how Daniel carried this burden.
One outstanding characteristic of Daniel's life was this: "He made up his mind not to defile himself" (Dan.1:8). He wastotally uncompromising when it came to obeying even the smallest commandments of God's Word. Jesus said, "Whoever annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches the least commandment, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven" (Matt.5:19). The men whom God will use to build new-covenant churches are those who will teach obedience to the Lord's major commandments, such as giving up anger and sexual impurity (Mat.5:22, 28), as well as obedience to the Lord's minor commandments, such as women veiling their heads when they pray and prophesy in church-meetings (1 Cor.11:1-16).
In the beginning Daniel had to stand alone, while all the other Jews compromised. But when Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah (better known by their Babylonian names of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego) saw Daniel taking a stand for God, they picked up courage and joined him (Dan. 1:11).
I believe there are many people like Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, today, in many places, who have a desire to build a pure testimony for the Lord in their locality. But they don't have the courage to take a stand on their own. They need a Daniel to lead them. And when a Daniel does arise in their village or town, they will come out and join him.
Four wholehearted young men in Babylon were a more powerful witness for God than the thousands of compromising Jews there, who sought to please the king. Daniel and his three friends who stood for God had an influence on the most powerful nation of their time (Babylon) and its rulers.
Half-hearted Christians - even thousands of them - cannot be a light for the Lord in any town or nation. God needs wholehearted believers - for "it is not by human might or numbers that God does His work, but by His Spirit" (See Zech.4:6).
God is looking for men today who are burdened to build a new covenant church in their locality - and who will never compromise, whatever the cost.
The church is the body of Christ and not just a gathering of believers who meet together every week. We must make sure then that it is that Body that we are building and not just a "religious Christian group". Any man can organize a religious group. It takes grace and an anointing from God however, to build Christ's Body - and for this we have todeny ourselves, die daily and be filled with the Holy Spirit.
The Israelites under the old covenant were a congregation and not a body. Many large churches today also are congregations and not a body. Some smaller house-churches are a little better - they are clubs but not a body. But Jesus is building His body.
To have a clearer understanding of the difference between a congregation, a club and the church, you could listen to the following message:
"The Congregation, the Club and the Church" (*By Santosh Poonen)
The Covering of Reproach
The first body of Christ was seen by man, lying in a manger (a feeding-trough for cattle). The reproach of that humiliating birth was the mark by which Christ's body was identified by the shepherds (See Luke 2:12). It was again, in reproach that Christ's body finally hung on a criminal's cross at Calvary. From birth to death, the first body of Christ was characterised by reproach from the secular world as well as the religious world.
Any true expression of the body of Christ today will suffer the same reproach from the world and from Babylonian Christendom. If our local church does not have such a covering of 'the reproach of Christ', over it, it is possible that we have become compromisers, and have not gone "outside the camp of Babylon" (Heb.13:13). There is however a vast difference between the reproach of Christ and any reproach that is the result of our own sin or foolishness or lukewarmness. We should not mistake one for the other.
It was written of Jesus that " there was no attractiveness in Him at all.....He was despised and not esteemed " (Isa.53:2, 3). His glory was in His inner life - full of grace and truth - which was hidden from most men (John 1:14). Our local churches too must not be attractive - either to the world or to Babylonian Christendom. The church must be attractive only to those who come inside seeking for a godly life. The tent of the tabernacle had beautiful curtains on the inside. But the outer covering was of dark brown ram's skins covered with dust and dirt. The beauty was all on the inner curtains, inside the tent. The Bride of Christ also is"glorious in her inner life" (Psa. 45:13). And"over her inner glory there will be a covering (of reproach) " (Isa.4:5).
This is where the leaders of the church have a great responsibility. The way they lead the church forward is going to determine whether the church is going to be like Jesus Who was not esteemed by men, or whether it will be praised and honoured by the world. If we seek for commendation from the world or from other carnal or soulish Christians, then we will certainly end up building Babylon. When we become popular and accepted by Christendom in general, we can be certain that we have missed the footsteps of Jesus altogether.
Jesus said, " Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you" (Matt.5:11,12).
Herod and his soldiers were eager to kill that first body of Christ, the baby Jesus, 20 centuries ago. And there are many who are eager to destroy the beginnings of the body of Christ in many places today. Joseph protected that body by being sensitive to God's voice and by being quick to obey what God told him to do (Matt.2:13-15). We who have responsibility in Christ's church have also got to be like Joseph. We have to be 'listeners' - listening to what the Holy Spirit tells us, and quick to obey what we are told. If we don't listen and obey, then the body of Christ in our locality will suffer loss in some way - and we can be held responsible for that in the final day. We have to take our responsibility seriously in this matter, for we have to give an account to God for every soul committed to our charge (Heb.13:17).
Humility - the Mark of the Body of Christ
"The Lord says, 'Heaven is my throne. What house can you build for Me as good as that? But I will look with favour on the man who has a humble and a contrite heart and who trembles at my word - and I will help him to build My house" (Isa.66:1, 2 - paraphrase).
The first body of Christ was the physical body of Jesus in which He lived for 33½ years on earth. So, as Christ's spiritual Body today, we have to follow the example He set in His physical body when He lived on earth. We must live by the same principles that He lived by, in every aspect of our life and ministry. Each of us, as a member of Christ's Body, must make Jesus our Example in everything. So, we must never do or say anything that we cannot do in fellowship with Him.
The first thing that Jesus did when He came in a human body, was to humble himself. So to follow Jesus' example, this is where we also must begin.
- Humility Step 1 - Jesus humbled Himself by giving up His position as God and becoming a man.
- Humility Step 2 - Jesus humbled Himself further (as a man), by becoming the servant of everyone.
- Humility Step 3 - Jesus humbled Himself even more, by going even lower than a servant and choosing to die in the disgraceful way that criminals were killed (through crucifixion).
These three steps are all mentioned in Philippians 2:5-8. These are the three secrets of the Christian life: Humility, Humility and Humility! If we have not learnt these three secrets, we will never fulfil God's purpose for our lives!
If we keep looking at Jesus, we can never, never become proud. As we sing in that hymn,
"When I survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss and pour contempt on all my pride".
We sink into pride (like Peter began to sink in the sea - Matt.14:30) only when we look away from Jesus and look at others and compare ourselves with them. Pride sends people to hell. It also makes God our enemy (1 Pet.5:5) and destroys us spiritually. It has destroyed many fine young people who would have been prophets of God in their countries today, if they had remained humble. God gives His grace only to the humble.
"What have you got that you did not receive? Everything we have is God's free gift. So don't ever glory in anything you have or are" (1 Cor. 4:7-Living).
"Blessed are the poor in spirit (those who rate themselves as insignificant ), for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them" (Matt.5:3 - Amplified).
If we live in such a poverty of spirit until the end of our days, we will not only live a glorious life on this earth, but also have an abundant entrance into God's kingdom finally.
There is no partiality with God - and He is not impressed by all our accomplishments. God resists all proud people and gives grace only to the humble.
Judas Iscariot and Ananias and Sapphira were exposed publicly because they sought to fellowship with a group of people in whose midst God was working powerfully. Even so today, hypocritical and proud brothers are exposed when they join a powerful church - sooner or later - because God is always purifying His church. Sometimes, God waits a long time before exposing hypocrisy and pride in a leader, but He will always do so finally.
But no-one will ever fall away from the Lord, if he constantly judges himself in secret and is willing to receive correction from others, without getting offended.
Submission to Authority
If anyone chooses to be a part of a church, he must submit to the elders of that church - in church-matters. In other matters, he need not consult his elder. But he may do so, if that elder has earned his confidence by his life and ministry. A godly leader will use his authority only like a father to protect his children from dangers and to guide them along the best path. As leaders, we should be willing to make any sacrifice necessary to help our flock.
Elders must also remember that they have no responsibility outside their own local church, unless they are asked for help by the elders of other churches. So whenever you visit another church, you must acknowledge the authority of the local elders there. When you know nothing about matters in another church, it is best not to give any advice on what they should or should not do, because such advice can create confusion. You must recognize that your boundary is only within your own local church, unless God gives you a responsibility for another church as well - in which case, that will be recognized by the elders of that other church.
Elders of churches should submit to the authority of the apostle who planted their church and who appointed them as elders. The apostle who appoints an elder also has the authority to remove him from eldership if necessary.
Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Shepherds, Teachers
Our personal life is founded on Christ alone (1 Cor.3:11). But the church is founded on "the apostles and the prophets, with Christ Jesus being the Chief Cornerstone" (Eph.2:19, 20). Christ has appointed apostles in the church even after He ascended to heaven (Eph.4:10, 11).
Christ has given gifted men to the church: apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers (Eph.4:11). Among these, the apostles, prophets and teachers are the first three in rank (1 Cor.12:28). But all these gifted men together are called to help and equip all the ordinary believers, who, in turn, are to build up the church (See Eph.4:12). So we see that every member in the Body of Christ has a responsibility to build Christ's church.
An apostle is one commissioned and "sent by God" with a specific task.
Here are some of the things that an apostle does (as we see in the New Testament):
1. He plants and establishes churches (Acts 13 to 19).
2. He appoints elders in each church (Acts 14:23; Tit.1:5).
3. He is a father to the elders (1 Cor.4:15).
4. He guides churches in doctrinal and practical matters (Acts 15:6-29; Acts 6:3).
5. He disciplines people in the churches when problems arise (1 Cor.1:11; 1 Cor.5:4, 5, 13; 2 Cor.13:2).
6. He protects believers from authoritarian elders (1 Tim.5:20; 3 John 9).
7. He writes letters to the churches to warn them and guide them (as Paul constantly did).
The Lord gives apostles authority over the churches that He plants through them. But an apostle never imposes his authority on any believer (2 Cor.1:24). The churches should joyfully and voluntarily accept an apostle's authority, for their own protection.
God's original plan was for every church to be built on " a foundation laid by the apostles and prophets" (Eph.2:20).
A prophet is one who is given discernment by God about the current need of those he speaks to and who speaks God's Word fearlessly and with compassion and leads God's people to repentance (Acts 15:32). A prophet's ministry will bring challenge and encouragement and will build people up (1 Cor.14:3). When people listen to a true prophet, their hearts will burn within them (Luke 24:32). As a result, they will see their hidden sins and acknowledge that "God is certainly here" (1 Cor.14:25).
Evangelists bring sinners to Christ and into the church.
Shepherds care for the believers in their church and counsel and nurture them.
Teachers teach believers in many churches the deeper truths of God's Word.
For a fuller understanding of these gifts, please see my Bible-commentary THROUGH THE BIBLE, Chapter on Ephesians, Pages 766 to 768.
Elders Lead Each Church
Under the old covenant, Israel had only one high priest as their spiritual authority. But in the new covenant, God has planned that a church should be led by a minimum of two elders. In a family, God appoints a father and a mother (and not just a father) to give balanced leadership to the family. In the same way, God appoints a plurality of elders to lead a local church - because the church is a heavenly family and its leadership also needs to be balanced.
Although this is the new-covenant pattern, it is not seen in most churches in our day. What we see mostly is:
(a) Large denominations where authority is imposed from above by a bishop or a superintendent or a Pope (who is elected by a majority vote). These are all exactly like the elected Directors of large companies.
(b) Or: Independent churches that are answerable to nobody, and who appoint their own pastors. These churches are like independent companies who select and appoint managers of their own choice.
Both these patterns are human ideas and are never found in the New Testament. Many who are eager to enter into the new covenant in other areas do not seek to follow the New Testament in this area - of church-pattern. They want the new wine but not the new wineskin - and so the new wine is spilt and lost (Luke 5:37,38) They miss out on God's best.
The New Testament has shown us God's ideal pattern for building local churches. But if there is no apostle in a place to appoint elders, then the believers there have to be content with human methods to do God's work.
The reason why apostles are rare in every country is because the Lord finds very few believers who are willing to pay the price for such a ministry.
Staying within Our Boundaries
Every elder has a boundary that God has drawn around him for his ministry. God will support him mightily, as long as he stays within the sphere that God has appointed for him.
Paul states this very clearly in 2 Corinthians 10:13 to15: "As for us, we will stay within the limits of the work which God has set for us, and this includes our work among you. And since you are within those limits, we were not going beyond those boundaries, when we came to you………We do not boast about the work that others have done beyond the limits God set for us. Instead, we hope that your faith may grow and that we may be able to do a much greater work among you, always within the limits that God has set for us ."(TEV)
If any elder goes outside his boundary into a sphere of ministry that God has not allotted to him, he will only bring confusion and chaos into God's work. God will never bear witness to what he does outside his God-appointed sphere. As the Bible says, " Anyone who breaks through the wall (his God-appointed boundary-wall) will get bitten by the Serpent" (Eccl.10:8).
The story of King Uzziah is very instructive in this connection. Uzziah did a lot of good within his sphere of ministry as a king (2 Chronicles 26:3-15). God blessed him greatly within that sphere. But his success as a king made him proud and he felt he could go outside his God-appointed sphere and do the ministry of a priest as well. As soon as he did that, God struck him with leprosy - and he died as a leper (2 Chronicles 26:16-21). This is a warning for all of us.
King Saul also made the same mistake of going outside his boundary (as a king). Because God had blessed him in his ministry as a king, he decided to do the ministry of a priest as well. As soon as he did that, Samuel told him that God was taking away his kingship from him. (Read about this in 1 Samuel 13:8-14).
So, staying within our own boundary is very important in God's eyes. The commandment, " You shall not covet anything that God has given to your neighbour" can be applied to coveting the ministry of another as well. And "all covetousness is idolatry" (Col.3:5).
If we violate God's order or do not submit to it, we can bring confusion into God's work. So we must fear God and stay within our God-given boundaries - for there alone will we find God (as it says in Acts 17:26, 27).
The Independence of Each Local Church
No church must become a headquarters for other churches. The churches planted by the apostles were all independent churches directly under the headship of the Lord Jesus alone.
In the old covenant, the earthly city of Jerusalem was the centre of religious activity - the headquarters for the Israelites. Denominational churches today also have a headquarters located somewhere on earth.
But in the new covenant, we are a heavenly people and so we have no earthly headquarters (Gal.4:26). In symbol-form: The7-branched Jewish lampstand of the old covenant is replaced by seven separate lampstands in the new covenant - with Christ in the middle of them - Rev.1:11-20.
And so, Paul refused to make any church on earth (in Jerusalem or in Antioch) as a headquarters for the churches he planted. That saved those early churches from becoming a dead denomination.
Those churches were all directly under the headship of Christ alone. Each church was governed by its own elders and each church was financially independent. There were no dioceses (groups of churches) or bishops or archbishops ruling over any group of churches, as we see in today's Babylonian Christianity. If we follow the new-covenant pattern, any corruption found in one church will not spread to the other churches (as happens in denominations).
The fellowship between the leaders and between the churches must be based on a mutual love and respect for each other and in the common pursuit of the goal of becoming totally like Christ - and not because of any organizational unity.
Following God's Instructions Exactly
We need grace and wisdom from the Lord for the awesome task of building the church - a task as important as Noah building the ark and as Moses building the tabernacle.
"Moses was warned by God when he was about to erect the tabernacle, saying, 'See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown to you on the mountain' - because they are all a copy and shadow of the heavenly realities " (Heb.8:5).
The ark and the tabernacle were two structures that God commanded man to construct - and the exact details for both were given by God to Noah and Moses.
Both Noah and Moses had to beware of accepting modifications to these structures that clever people suggested to them (or that could come from their own clever minds) that would change the instructions that God gave them, even slightly.
It was because they obeyed God's instructions exactly that the blessing of God rested on their work - and the glory of God rested on the tabernacle.
We must remember this when building the church as well.
To build churches of a high standard, we need leaders who have a high standard.
Jesus said, "Follow Me" (Luke 9:23).
And Paul said "Follow me as I follow Christ" (1 Cor.11:1: Phil.3:17).
In those words of the apostle Paul, we see what the Holy Spirit expects every elder to be able to say to everyone in his church.
Many elders say, "Don't follow me, but follow Christ". That sounds very humble. But it is only an excuse to cover up their defeated life; and it is totally contrary to the teaching of the Holy Spirit.
As a leader, your life and speech should be so exemplary, that you should be able to say to everyone in your church " Follow me, as I follow Christ".
Before Paul's conversion, he was a total failure. Yet God changed him and made him a great example for others to follow, even though he was not perfect (See Phil.3:12-14). Even the best Christian in the world is not perfect but only pressing on to perfection. So, even if there has been much failure in your life, in the past, God can still make you a godly leader for others to follow.
Here are seven characteristics that you should seek to have, as a leader of God's people:
1. You should always be humble and approachable. Jesus was humble and approachable (Matt.11: 29). People could approach Him anywhere and at any time. A Nicodemus could visit Him in His homelate at night; and anyone could talk to Jesus at any time anywhere. Jesus' humility made Him eager to preach the gospel to the poor (as we read in Luke 4:18). Paul was a humble man who was quick to acknowledge his mistakes and to apologize for them immediately (Acts 23:1-5). As an elder, you too should make no distinction between the rich and the poor in your church. You should have no "superior airs" about you and you must be quick to apologize for your mistakes. And you must always remain an ordinary brother.
2. You should never ask anyone for money - either for yourself or for your ministry - and you should have a simple life-style . If you do receive any freely-offered gifts (as Paul occasionally did) you should receive them only from people who are wealthier than you - and never from anyone poorer than you. Jesus never asked anyone for money, either for Himself or for His ministry. And He accepted gifts only from those who were wealthier than him (Luke 8:3). Jesus and Paul had simple lifestyles. You should have the same attitude that Jesus and Paul had, towards money and material things.
3. You should have a testimony as a godly man. You should be known in your church as an upright man with a passion for holiness - one who does not seek your own in anything. People must know you as one who has control over your tongue (James 1:26; Eph.4:26-31), and one who is merciful to those who have failed (Heb.5:2). You should also have a testimony of total purity towards all women - young and old (1 Tim.5:2). This is the aroma of godliness that there should be, around your life.
4. You should have brought up your children to love the Lord . The Holy Spirit has said that only such men should be appointed as elders, whose children are believers and obedient. (1 Tim.3:4, 5; Tit.1:6). Our children know us better than others, because they see us all the time at home. And if they see us living in a godly way at home, they too will follow the Lord (See Prov.22:6). This is not an easy task. But you can trust the Lord to help you. So seek His help to teach your children to love the Lord and to be respectful to all people.
5. You should preach the whole counsel of God fearlessly. You should proclaim everything written in the New Testament - every commandment and every promise - without seeking to please any man (Acts 20:27; Gal.1:10). You should seek for the anointing of the Holy Spirit continuously, so that your messages can be both challenging and encouraging.
6. You should have a passion to build your church as a true expression of Christ's Body . Jesus came to earth to save people from all sin and then to build them up as His Body, that would manifest His life (Matt.16:18). Paul's passion was to plant such local churches everywhere that would function as Christ's Body (Eph.4:15, 16). That should be your passion too. Paul worked hard to build such churches - and you should also work hard to do the same (Col.1:28, 29).
7. You should seek to raise up at least a few in your church who share your vision and your spirit . As an elder, you should be concerned about the testimony of the Lord being preserved in purity in the next generation in your church. Jesus raised up 11 disciples who imbibed His spirit and lived by His standards to carry on His work. Paul raised up Timothy and Titus, who lived by his spirit of humility and selflessness to carry on his work (Phil.2:19-21; 2 Cor.7:13-15). You should also seek the Lord's help to raise up a few in your church who will share your vision and your passion.
So, pray that the Lord will anoint you with His Holy Spirit continuously and enable you to have all the qualities listed above, so that you can be an example for everyone in your church to follow.
Here are some qualities that you should seek to have, so that others can have confidence in you. They should see that:
- You seek the approval of God and don't seek the approval of men (not even of godly men);
- The kingdom of God and His righteousness are your first priority;
- You are a totally committed disciple of the Lord Jesus;
- You have a burning love for God;
- You are sincerely concerned about God's glory and the Name of the Lord Jesus;
- You are humble and broken in spirit;
- You make godliness attractive;
- You are zealous to preserve the church in purity;
- You are bold for the truth;
- You live according to your convictions, and practise everything you preach;
- You control your temper, and are never in a bad mood;
- You love both in word and in deeds;
- You are compassionate in your dealings with all people;
- You are natural in your behaviour, and you don't put on any " airs";
- You never make anyone feel inferior to you;
- You conduct yourself as an ordinary brother, and not as a " Big Brother";
- You are easily approachable at all times;
- You are warm and friendly, and make people feel at home in your presence;
- You are hospitable in your home;
- You are not only godly, but fatherly as well;
- You seek the eternal welfare of your brothers and sisters at all times;
- You are totally impartial in your attitude to everyone in the church;
- You are not prejudiced for or against anyone - because of family connections, or community, or anything else;
- You uphold the dignity of all people - whether young or old, whether a child, or a servant;
- You speak respectfully to all people - and especially to those who are older than you;
- You have a concern especially for the poor, and for young people and children;
- You carry your brothers and sisters in your heart;
- You base your authority on God's Word, and not on your own experience;
- You are careful in your speech, and not hasty to express your thoughts;
- You are visibly growing in Christlikeness;
- You lean on the Holy Spirit in making decisions, and not upon your own reason;
- You can be trusted to keep all matters confidential that are shared in confidence with you (not divulging them even to your wife);
- You can be totally depended on to keep your word;
- You are exact in fulfilling your responsibilities;
- You are straightforward in telling people the truth in love;
- You never deceive anyone;
- You are patient with all men;
- You do not hide the fact that you are an earthen vessel with human infirmities;
- You are flexible and willing to yield - and not rigid;
- You ensure that no pressure is put on others, either by your personality or by your gifts;
- You never force your advice on anyone, but give freedom to people to disagree with you;
- You do not make what you practise, to be a law for others to follow;
- You are interested in individuals, and not in the crowd;
- You enter into the problems of others, with a sympathetic heart and with genuine concern;
- You do not keep on reminding people of their past failures;
- You can bear with the weaknesses and mistakes of others;
- You try to see the brothers and sisters as God sees them, and therefore never give up hope for any of them;
- You give people hope for the future, even when they have failed;
- You are a true friend to the weak;
- You never have any malice, even when speaking about your enemies;
- You give strong exhortations against sin, both publicly and privately;
- You stress only what God's Word stresses, in your ministry;
- You are willing to share your responsibility with others, even if they are less mature than you;
- You do not allow your wife to influence you in church matters;
- You take life seriously, and don't want to be known as a joker;
- You have a sense of humour, but you never hurt anyone with it;
- You connect people to Christ the Head, and not to yourself;
How Confidence is Lost
Others will not have (or will lose) confidence in you:
- If you are a busybody in matters that don't concern you;
- If you pretend to be spiritual, and so behave in an unnatural manner;
- If you act humble, with a false humility;
- If you seek to advance your own name and interests;
- If you take advantage of the brothers and sisters, and make them do odd jobs for you or your family, without paying them for their service;
- If you value your friends and relatives more than your brothers and sisters in the church;
- If you are insincere, crafty and deceitful in your ways;
- If you are unwilling to listen to advice from others;
- If you justify yourself;
- If you keep a distance from the brothers, as one superior to them;
- If you believe everything that you hear about others, without verifying the facts;
- If you are quick to pass judgment but not quick to show mercy;
- If you are untruthful;
- If you love only those who love you;
- If you flatter people to gain some advantage;
- If you praise any brother unwisely, to his ruin;
- If you visit only the rich, and neglect poor believers;
- If you compromise in spiritual matters;
- If you tell jokes at the expense of others;
- If you are unforgiving, and retain grudges;
- If you make decisions concerning church matters, to suit your own or your family's convenience;
- If you cannot overlook small mistakes that others commit, but instead makes big issues out of them;
- If you don't look at people straight in the face, when talking to them;
- If your messages are boring and you don't seem to realise it!
If you have the godly qualities mentioned in this chapter, your flock will recognise you as one given by God to be their elder brother.
If you observe a lack in any of the areas mentioned above, you should seek God for help so that you can overcome that weakness and fulfil your calling faithfully, in the fear of God.
In Revelation chapters 2 and 3 we read the messages that the Lord sent to the elders of seven churches in Asia. These elders had been appointed by the apostles about 40 years earlier. But now, five of those elders were in a backslidden state and their churches were in a pathetic condition. This, however, was no reflection on the apostles who had planted those churches.
Paul had warned the elders in Ephesus that, after he left, wolves would come in and destroy the flock (Acts 20:29, 30). But those elders did not take Paul's warning seriously and did not repent. And so the church in Ephesus and its elders lost their love for the Lord and backslid (Rev.2:4). Thus the salt lost its taste and the light died out.
A Church Becomes Like Its Elders
The backslidden elders of those five churches may have gloried in the fact that the apostles Paul or John had planted their churches and appointed them as elders. But that was as foolish a boast as the Jews glorying in the fact that Abraham was their father (Matt.3:9 and John 8:39). Today also many leaders of churches glory in their connection to some man of God who founded their church. Such glorying is foolish, if the current leader of the church is not spiritually minded.
Generally speaking, every church rises or sinks along with its leaders. This is because most believers, like sheep, unquestioningly follow their shepherds. So as leaders, our responsibility is very great before God. If we remember that always, we will keep our faces in the dust before the Lord and seek for His grace.
In those five backslidden churches, we see that when the leader lost his love for the Lord, the church lost it too. When the leader followed the ' doctrine of Balaam' (compromising and serving God for honour and money), the believers in the church also became like Balaam. When the leader was spiritually dead, or proud, those who listened to him also became like him (Rev.2 and 3).
But there were a few exceptions . In Revelation 3:4, we see that there were some in Sardis who did not backslide like their leader. They kept themselves wholehearted, in spite of the dead state of their elder. Equally, there could have been exceptions the other way round too - of those who were spiritually dead even though they were in churches that were spiritually alive (like the churches in Smyrna and Philadelphia).
But generally speaking, we can say that a church rises or sinks with its leader. This is what makes our responsibility as leaders, a serious one, before God.
When Elders Become Spiritually Deaf
Those backslidden elders were totally unaware of their fallen state. God had to reveal their condition to them through the apostle John. Why couldn't they hear God speaking to them directly about their spiritual condition - instead of through John? After all, in the new covenant, God desires to speak to every believer directly. The reason was that they were more occupied with thinking about what they had to preach to the others in the church-meetings. It's easy to be ignorant of our own spiritual state when we concentrate on being 'a preacher to others'.
Notice also that the Lord's messages to those leaders were not sent in any private communication to them personally. No. The messages were publicly read out in all the churches (Rev.1:11). So, all the churches knew of the spiritual state of the leaders of all the other churches as well. In fact, a blessing was pronounced on those who paid careful attention to these messages (Rev.1:3).
Paul wrote to Timothy saying that "the elders who continue in sin must be rebuked in the presence of all, so that others also will be afraid of sinning" (1 Tim.5:20).
And so Paul mentioned the name of his co-worker Demas who fell away and mentioned the reason for it as well - because he " loved this present world" (loved money, comfort and man's honour - 2 Tim.4:10). Paul also mentioned the names of others who opposed him - Phygelus, Hermogenes, Alexander and Hymaneus (2 Tim.1:15; 4:14; 1Tim.1:20). Paul told the churches of Galatia even about the hypocritical actions of Peter and Barnabas (Gal.2:11-16).
Not all believers are permitted by God to speak about leaders like this. An apostle however, can say such things when inspired by the Holy Spirit to do so. Carnal believers do not understand God's ways, and so they may find fault with Paul for revealing the names and the failures of the leaders. But an apostle is led by the Holy Spirit.
You are blessed if you can accept such rebukes and corrections from an apostle - and humble yourself under them.
Leaders who Fear God
In the Old Testament, whenever the Israelites backslid, it was always their leaders (the princes, the priests and the false prophets) whom God rebuked through His prophets. The people of Israel went astray because their leaders had become slack and careless. The people had lost the fear of God because their leaders had lost the fear of God.
Under the new covenant, we are commanded to perfect holiness in the fear of God (2 Cor.7:1). If as elders, our holiness is not more perfect today, in the fear of God, than it was last year, then we are unfit to lead God's people on. It is possible to be diligent in keeping a check on the others. But there may be no-one to keep a check on us. Our backsliding can then become so serious, before someone corrects us, that it can sometimes be too late to do anything about it.
What shall we do then? We have to ask God to take us in hand and deal with us strongly, lest we fall away altogether. The Spirit of God made Jesus 'quick of scent in the fear of God' (Isa.11:3-KJV margin). And the Spirit can make us fear God like that too - if we will allow Him. This is not the fear that God may hurt us, but rather the fear that we may hurt God.
We need a revival of this fear of God, in our personal lives first of all. We need to ask God to save us from the routine of speaking at church-meetings, week after week, without any personal encounters with Him face to face. We need to fear lest having preached to others, we ourselves be rejected by God in the final day, as Paul feared could happen even to him, if he was undisciplined in his life (1 Cor.9:27).
The Baptism in the Holy Spirit and His Gifts
We need to be seriously concerned about the devaluing of the baptism (immersion) in the Holy Spirit in our time. We have two extremes in Christendom today: Those who deny the baptism in the Spirit altogether, and those who glory in a cheap, emotional counterfeit (that has brought them neither power for service nor holiness of life). We must steer clear of both these extremes and seek God for a genuine enduement with power so that we can live and serve as we should.
We cannot lead a church higher than we have risen ourselves. If we have had only a counterfeit experience ourselves, then we shall lead others also only into counterfeit experiences. We need to be genuinely immersed in the Holy Spirit. But that's not enough. We need to live continually in the fulness of the Spirit too, if we are to be effective for the Lord. We need to " be being filled with the Spirit" all the time (Eph.5:18 - Literal).
If we are to have an effective ministry in our church, then we must have a genuine concern for the spiritual growth of the brothers and sisters in our church. This will drive us to seek God for the gift of prophecy, so that we can serve our fellow-believers effectively. It is impossible to serve God effectively in the ministry of the Word without this gift of the Spirit. So we must seek for it with all our hearts. The parable Jesus spoke about the man who went to his neighbour's house at midnight to get food for his friend, teaches us to have a concern for those in our church who are in need. That in turn will make us knock at God's door and seek Him until He " gives us as much as we need of the power of the Holy Spirit " (Compare Luke 11:v.8 with v.13).
In the new covenant, prophesying means to speak God's Word under the anointing of the Holy Spirit in such a way as to exhort, encourage and build up the church (1 Cor.14:4, 24, 25). In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul emphasises the importance of prophesying in the meetings of the local church. If the church could have been built up without such anointed prophesying, then we would have to say that God gave this gift to the church unnecessarily. Then the exhortation to " earnestly desire to prophesy" would be an unnecessary exhortation (1Cor.14:1, 39). But the fact is that this gift is essential for the building up of the church. A church that does not have even one brother in it who prophesies in the Spirit will soon end up in spiritual death.
To ignore the anointing of the Spirit amounts to the same as saying that the coming of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost was unnecessary and that we are well able to do the Lord's work without His enabling! That is as serious an error as saying that the coming of the Lord Jesus to earth was unnecessary, and that we are well able to get into God's kingdom, without Him! Ignoring the coming of the Third Person of the Trinity amounts to despising the Holy Spirit and is just as serious a sin as ignoring the coming of the Second Person of the Trinity.
We must not devalue the Spirit's anointing, just because it has been abused by some believers. If you don't have the Spirit's power, you will lean on your own human talents and experience to do the work of the Lord. And that will never accomplish God's purposes.
We need to free people from Phariseeism and legalism on the one hand, and from compromise and worldliness on the other hand. Who is sufficient for such a ministry? Only one who is enabled by the Holy Spirit. That is why we need to seek God for the Holy Spirit's wisdom and His power constantly. When Paul prays for the Christians at Ephesus, he prays that they will know both the Holy Spirit's wisdom as well as His power (Eph.1:17; 3:16). These are what we need to pray for too.
The Dangers of Legalism and Worldliness
We must seek with all our hearts to be free from ALL legalism. Only thus can we build new-covenant churches.
Legalism always leads to judgmentalism and can destroy the work of God as much as worldliness can. Legalismand worldliness are two extremes - and both can result in building Babylonian churches. But of the two, legalism is more dangerous because it appears to be "spiritual", unlike worldliness. Legalistic churches look more spiritual than worldly churches but they have much more hypocrisy and unreality in them than worldly churches.
The Pharisees were legalists and the Herodians were worldly. But it was the Pharisees who were insistent that Jesus should be crucified, and not the Herodians. There we can see the danger of legalism clearly.
Romans 6 deals with freedom from sin. And Romans 7 deals with freedom from legalism. We need freedom from both.
Consider just one example where elders can be legalistic: Teaching that the wearing of jewellery is being worldly.
We need to understand TWO things clearly:
First of all : Worldliness is primarily in the mind. Romans12:2 says, "Be not conformed to the world........in your mind".Worldliness can manifest itself in many ways - in gossiping, backbiting, love of money, seeking honour from people (in the world or in the church), and also in displaying oneself with expensive clothes and jewellery. But gossiping is a million times worse than wearing jewellery, because gossiping hurts other people. Since worldliness begins in the mind, it must be rooted out of the mind first of all. Then the outside of the cup will automatically become clean (as Jesus said in Matt.23:26).
Secondly , anything that a believer is forced to do, is a dead work and has no value before God. We are told to "repent from dead works" (Heb.6:1). So we must never force anyone in our churches in any matter that is not morally sinful. For example: We can compel people to stop gossiping (because that is a sin). But we should not compel anyone to remove their jewellery (because this has to do with simplicityand not with sin). In matters of simplicity, we must give people freedom to live and dress according to their own convictions - not ours.
Let me add here that my wife and I have never worn jewellery - because we see 1 Timothy 2:9 ("not with gold or pearls") and 1 Peter 3:3 ( "must not be wearing gold jewellery") as clear commands in God's Word for us. But we don't judge others who wear jewellery. We assume that they don't understand these verses as we understand them.
Paul and Peter were emphasizing simplicity and modesty (as opposed to luxury and display) in 1 Timothy 2:9 and 1 Peter 3:3. They were discouraging sisters (and everyone) from fashionable display andwastage of money on unnecessary luxuries. Gold, pearls, expensive clothes and costly hair-styling are mentioned there. But there are many other luxury-items that could be added to that list, that many believers have in their homes.
Jesus has commanded us saying: " Do not judge according to the outward appearance, but judge with righteous judgment" (John 7:24).
So, before you criticize a sister for wearing jewellery, it will be good to ask yourself if you have anyunnecessary, luxurious items in your own house. If so, then I would say: Get rid of your hypocrisy, legalism, self-righteousness and judgmental spirit and judge yourself first. How can you criticize a sister for wearing some cheap imitation jewellery, which costs only a fraction of the cost of some expensive, unnecessary, luxurious items you have in your house?
The Bible says, "When you point your finger at others, think again. Every time you criticize someone, you condemn yourself as well. Judgmental criticism of others is a well-known way of escaping detection of your own shortcomings. But God can't be fooled. He sees right through all your hypocrisy and will hold you responsible for what you did. Don't think that by pointing your finger at others you can distract God from seeing your wrongs and from coming down on you hard ? Do you think that because he's such a nice God, he'll let you off? No. You won't escape. So repent..." (Rom.2:1-5 - Message Paraphrase).
The above principle has many applications other than the wearing of jewellery - for legalism comes in many shapes and colours - and we must beware of all of them. You could be judging a brother for the model of car that he uses or for wearing jeans or a colourful shirt.
The conclusion of the matter is here: "Let every person be fully convinced in his own mind " (Rom.14:5) - as to what size of house he should live in, what make of car (or scooter) he should own, what style of clothes he and his family members should wear, what food he should eat, how much he should spend for a wedding in his family, etc. There can certainly be worldliness in all these areas. But we are not to judge anyone else in these matters. We must judge only ourselves.
Babylon is not built by those who wear jewellery or by those who own some luxuries. It is built by hypocrites who do not practise what they preach and who condemn others.
Judging but Not Condemning
There is a lot of misunderstanding among Christians about whether it is right to judge others or not - because of a misunderstanding of the word " judge".
As believers, we must judge others in the sense that we must discern people. God's Word says that, when we listen to someone preaching, we "must pass judgement on his message" (1 Cor.14:29). So the Holy Spirit actually commands us to judge everyone's preaching. That is the only way we can avoid being deceived by many deceiving preachers in Christendom today.
The Word of God also says, "Do not believe every spirit, but test (judge) the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world" ( 1John 4:1).
Jesus also told us how we are to judge others. He said, " Be honest in your judgment and do not decide superficially and by appearances, but judge fairly and righteously " (John 7:24 - Amplified).
So what did Jesus mean then, when He also said, " Do not judge" (in Matt.7:1)?
The word "judge" also means "condemn" (in the original Greek). The Amplified Bible translation of this verse reads thus: "Do not condemn others lest you yourself be condemned" (Matt.7:1- Amplified).
And Jesus said, concerning Himself, "I do not condemn or sentence anyone" (John 8:15 - Amplified).
So it is condemning and sentencing others (verbally or in our mind) that is forbidden . God alone has the right to do that.
But we must test and discern .
It was prophesied about Jesus that He would never judge anyone " by what His eyes saw or His ears heard, but would judge people righteously" (Isa.11:3, 4). We should also follow His example and never judge anything or anyone merely by what we see or hear. We should investigate a matter thoroughly and then judge fairly in righteousness, without any partiality.
We are also told, as members of God's family, that we must judge ourselves first (1 Pet.4:17). But we are not to judge ourselves by looking inside ourselves. No. We are to look at Jesus' Example and in the light of His life, see our own shortcomings - and then judge ourselves. As it is written, " Lord, in Your light, we will see light" (Psa.36:9).
Judging ourselves in the light of God is one of the most important lessons that we must learn in the Christian life. Many never learn this and so they never make any spiritual progress.
Here is an amazing promise, that those who judge themselves faithfully now will not be judged by God in the final day: "If we judge ourselves rightly, we will not be judged" (1 Cor.11:31).
Although we do not judge others, we must preach strongly against sin. Jesus spoke strongly against specific sins such as anger, lusting sexually with one's eyes, loving money, anxiety, fear, evil thoughts, telling lies, seeking man's honour, hating one's enemies, etc. (in Matt.5, 6 and 7). We must also speak against modern sins such as watching Internet pornography - but without condemning people. Jesus did not come to condemn the world but to save the world (John 3:17). God alone is the Judge and Sentencer of all men (James 4:12).
God Removes the Proud and Arrogant from the Church
Proud and arrogant believers in the church must be confronted openly . An elder must not be gentle or diplomatic with such people, but bold and prophetic in his words - for all proud people dishonour the Lord's Name. The Lord will test elders in such situations to see whether they are men-pleasers or concerned for His glory in the church.
We must not be disturbed if someone gets offended with our correction and leaves the church - because God Himself is determined to remove all proud ones from the church.
God says, "I will remove all the proud and arrogant people from among you. There will not be any pride or haughtiness on my holy mountain (the church) . Those who are left will be the poor and the humble, and they will trust in the name of the Lord. They will not be full of deceit. They will live quietly, in peace, and lie down in safety, and no one will make them afraid.' Sing and shout and be glad and rejoice with all your heart, for the Lord himself will live among you! You need fear no more. Cheer up, for the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty Saviour. He will give you victory. He will rejoice over you with great gladness. He will love you and not accuse you" (Zeph.3:11-18 - Living Bible).
Jesus said, " All whom the Father gives to Me will come to Me" (John 6:37). We can say that too: Those whom the Father wants us to servewill remain with us. And we want only those believers to remain with us. Let all the others go - for those others will only cause us problems if they remain with us.
So, if other churches or pastors pull away some people from your church, you should let them go. God in His sovereignty permits even that for a reason. John said, "They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us" (1 John 2:19).
We can be sure of one thing however, that when God allows such a sifting to take place, not even the weakest true believer will be lost. The Lord says, "I have commanded that you be sifted as grain is sifted in a sieve, but not one true kernel will be lost" (Amos 9:9). That is His promise.
The church has to be sifted, like wheat. Otherwise there will be stones in the "bread" that God is making in the church. So we should be interested only in quality in our church and not numbers - just as God also is.
Discipline in the Church
It is very important that we maintain God's highest standards in the church. And so, at times, it may become necessary to excommunicate a brother who has sinned - put him out of the church. Paul, using his apostolic authority, once "handed over such a believer to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord" (1 Cor.5:5). Only thus can the church be kept pure.
The Holy Spirit has commanded that even elders must be rebukedpublicly before the whole church if they continue in sin. The command to give elders double honour as well as to discipline them when they sin are both mentioned together in the same passage of Scripture (1 Tim.5:17 and 20). The Lord honoured Moses and Peter publicly. But He rebuked them publicly too. He did the same with the five backslidden elders in Revelation 2 and 3.
When planning to discipline anyone, we must check and see if we will be"speaking the truth in love" (Eph.4:15). 1 John 3:16 says, " We ought to lay down our lives for our brothers." So we should ask ourselves whether we are willing to lay down our self-life in order to save that person from his sin or whether we only want to point out his sin to him.
Psalm 12:6 says, " The words of the LORD are pure words - as silver tried in a furnace, refined seven times ". So, we must put our words into "the furnace of the Lord" seven times and let the Lord purify them and direct us how to speak. Then we will have the wisdom to make our words either milder or stronger, as required - because Divine love can be either mild or strong, depending on each situation.
The Word of God tells us clearly how we are to relate to believers who have been disciplined and put out of a local church or who left a church in a spirit of rebellion., The Holy Spirit says, "Do not associate with them" (1 Cor.5:11 and 2 Thes.3:14) and " turn away from them" (Read Rom.16:17).
Some believers may feel that what the Holy Spirit has written there is too harsh, and may foolishly go and comfort such rebels. But the result will be that those rebels will never give up "eating with the pigs" and never come back in repentance to the Father's house (Luke 15:16, 17). Thus they will be eternally lost. The wise thing to do in such cases is to urge those rebels to repent and confess their sin and seek restoration of fellowship with the Lord and His people.
In the church, we must not take anyone's side against righteousness, through a false sense of loyalty to him. God's moral standards can never be sacrificed for the sake of supporting any brother. Divine love always rejoices in the truth, and cannot have any fellowship with unrighteousness (1 Cor.13:6). This is where we differ from the cults. Cult-members will support their fellow cult-member, even if he has done something unrighteous. We have seen examples of how cults have welcomed into their midst those who were excommunicated from other churches for open sin - even when those people did not repent or make restitution.
A person's eternal welfare should matter more to us than increasing the numbers in our church.
If your church has a bad testimony, it is better to admit that, rather than cover things up and pretend that everything is all right. Jesus did not try to cover up the failures of five of His churches (in Revelation 2 and 3) , but exposed them for everyone to read about! He did not come for the self-righteous, but for those who honestly acknowledge their sins. There can be no cleansing for those who cover up their failures.
It is a great privilege to be an elder in a new-covenant church. But it brings an awesome responsibility with it as well - a responsibility that should make us fear and tremble before the Lord. We should never meditate on the honour and privilege of being elders. We should think more about our responsibility as elders. If we remain in humility, the Lord will give us grace to be faithful until the very end.
Building the Church in Unity
In John 17:21, we see the amazing standard of unity that the Lord has set before us: He wants His disciples to have the same unity that He and the Father had, when He was on earth. The only way Jesus managed to have such unity with His Father, while on earth, was by denying His self-will at all times (John 6:38; Matt.26:39). That is why the cross must be central in our lives at all times. Satan will never be able to enter a church where the elders do not seek their own, but deny themselves and walk in unity with each other.
Here is a challenging portion of Scripture from the Old Testament where Haggai challenged the people not to seek their own, but to deny themselves and build God's house.
"The Lord says, 'Is it the right time for you to live in luxurious homes, when My house lies in ruins? Look at the result: You plant much but harvest little. Your income disappears, as though you were putting it into pockets filled with holes….You hope for much but get so little. And when you bring it home - it doesn't last at all. Why? Because My house lies in ruins, and you don't care. Your only concern is your own fine homes. That is why I am holding back the rains from heaven and giving you such scant crops'……. Then the Lord stirred the spirit of all the people and they came and worked on the house of the Lord. (Hag. 1: 3-14 - Living Bible and NASB).
The Lord wants to stir our hearts also like that with a total commitment to build His church.
"Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it" (Eph.5:25).
Growth in Character and in Service
It is easy to become one-sided in our life - growing in character alone, but not in our service for the Lord. To be conformed to the likeness of Jesus involves being like Him in our character as well as our service. Otherwise we will look like men who have strong muscles on one half of their bodies (character alone or service alone) but only skin and bones on the other half!
If we are overcoming sin, but do not have any concern to build the Lord's church, then we are not like Jesus. We must remember that although we will have all eternity to worship God in heaven, we have only this one life in which we can serve Him sacrificially.
When it concerns developing our character, the sacrifices we have to make are all inward - dying to our Self-will. But if we seek to build the church, we will have to make many external sacrifices as well - such as loss of sleep, rest, comfort, health, money, etc. During the 30 years when Jesus lived in Nazareth, the external sacrifices He had to make were very few. But once He began His ministry, He had to make many tedious journeys, with no place to sleep, often no time to eat, and also facing opposition from Satan and people.
Let us follow Jesus' Example then sacrificially, both in our life and in our ministry.
Only God can appoint a man to be a spiritual leader. If your appointment to a ministry or to an office in the church is merely by man, you will never be able to exercise Christ's authority.
Following the Example of Jesus
The first step of following Christ is seen in these words: "Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, Who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but laid aside His privileges, emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant," (Phil.2:5-7).
This was the first step that our Lord took - becoming a servant of all men. And that is the first step we should take as elders too. The moment you imagine that your position as an elder elevates you above others, you are unfit to be an elder.
Elders must be "servants who wash the feet of the saints" and " spiritual toilet-cleaners who clean up the church". They must always remain as ordinary brothers, who are always ready to step down as elders and become ordinary brothers at any time. No servant who is a toilet-cleaner in a house will be offended if he is asked to stop cleaning the toilets one day and to sit at the table, as a member of the family thereafter. And no elder should be offended if he is asked to give up his eldership one day and to sit as an ordinary brother in the church.
You must not hold your eldership in a tight-fisted way, but always keep it in an open palm - something that you will allow God to take away from you at any time. If your eldership ever becomes something that you hold on to and possess, then your eldership has become an idol to you - and you are no longer a disciple of Jesus Christ (See Luke 14:33).
A Leader who is a Brother
A spiritual leader must lead his flock along the way of the Cross. So he must be faithfully walking the way of self-denial himself. No one can be a leader in the Body of Christ who does not long to be a servant of others, as Christ Himself was. Jesus said, "The kings and great men of the earth lord it over the people; but among you it is different. Whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant. And whoever wants to be greatest of all must be the slave of all. For even I, the Messiah, am not here to be served, but to help others" (Mark 10:42-45-Living). Paul, the great apostle, who had an authority exceeding anyone else's, was a servant of others (2 Cor. 4:5; 1 Cor. 9:19).
A spiritual leader is called to exercise authority over those whom God places under him, and at the same time to be a brother to them and a fellow-member in the same Body. It is this delicately-balanced relationship of leader-brother that is often so difficult to maintain. We tend to be unbalanced one way or the other. We shall need much grace from the Lord constantly to remain as ordinary brothers . We must live close to God in a "face-to-face" relationship, if we are to maintain this balance. This was the secret of Moses' effective leadership of 2 million of God's people in the most adverse of circumstances for 40 years (Deut. 34:10; Num. 12:8).
Spiritual authority, being God-given, is not something that we have to assert over others or even force others to submit to. We should never compel others to listen to us or to obey us. God Himself will deal with those who resist His representatives. The servant of the Lord must never strive with anyone (2 Tim. 2:24, 25). If God is backing you, why should you try to defend your position? God Himself will defend you and establish your authority. If however, you seek to assert your authority yourself, that would indicate that your authority is not God-given at all.
We must never take the title of 'Leader' (Matt.23:10). We must not be called 'Pastors' either, for Ephesians 4:11 states that " pastors" are a gift that the Lord gives to His church - just like apostles, prophets, teachers and evangelists. None of these are offices in the church and none of them are titles to be taken.
Reaction to Slander
A spiritual leader should not defend himself or seek to justify and vindicate himself, when attacked or slandered. The Bible says, "Christ is your example. Follow in His steps.....He never answered back when insulted; when He suffered He did not threaten to get even; He left His case in the hands of God Who always judges fairly" (1 Pet. 2:21, 23 - Living).
The Son of God, the greatest authority, refused to strive with men and to assert His rule over them. He left it to God to defend Him and to vindicate Him. This is the path that all under-shepherds in the Church must tread. As a spiritual leader, if you live under God's authority yourself, you can safely leave everything in His Hands. You can afford to ignore slander and criticism and backbiting against you, for God's promise is that He Himself will defend His servants against such attacks (Isa. 54:17). When someone flings mud at us, if we try to wipe it off, we will stain our clothes. But if we leave it alone, it will dry up in due course and fall off by itself; and there will not be any stain. This is the wisest way to deal with slander.
The church today suffers because of a great dearth of spiritual ly-minded leaders. There are many who hold titles and exercise their authority officially. But true spiritual leadership is scarce and rarely found. Jesus once looked out at the crowds that came to him and felt great pity for them, " because their problems were so great and they didn't know what to do or where to go for help. They were like sheep without a shepherd " (Matt. 9:36- Living). The situation is just the same today.
We desperately need leaders in the Church, who have the heart of a shepherd and the spirit of a servant, men who fear God and tremble at His Word.
Submission - Joyfully Accepted and Not Imposed
We must never allow others to look up to us as 'great men of God' or to idolize us. We must not allow people to become our admirers. They must always be our brothers. Otherwise they will never grow up to have a personal connection with Christ as their Head.
We must not attach anyone to ourselves. Instead, we should urge everyone to live before God's face alone. They must not seek for our approval in the things that they do. If we find anyone becoming attached to us, we must shake him off immediately. When we give advice to another, we must also give him the freedom to disagree with us, to ignore our advice, and to do things the way he feels free to do it himself. And if he makes a mistake, we must be quick to help him, and never tell him, "I told you so."
It is possible for an elder brother to subtly teach the importance of " submitting to the authority that God has appointed in the church" - with a view to getting everyone in his church to submit to him. This can put such a fear into people's hearts that they will be afraid to disagree with him. That is evil. Submission can be based only on the measure of confidence that others have in us - because they see the grace of God in our life, the godliness of our family life and the anointing on our spoken word that helps them in their times of need.
To demand submission from others just because we are elders would indicate that we are insecure and don't really know God - because God gives freedom to people either to submit to Him or to rebel against Him - and we are not greater than God. So we have no right as elders to demand submission from anyone. We are called to serve, not to demand submission.
We must also be careful that we don't get anyone to submit to us through our soul-power (the power of our personality). It is very easy for a strong-minded elder to have a hypnotic hold on others in the church by the power of his personality! That is soulish and evil. All such soul-power must be put to death. People in the church must be free with us and nobody should be afraid of us.
Legalistic Dictatorship and Dead Works
We must never run the church like a dictatorship, where the brothers and sisters live under the burden of a multitude of rules and regulations. That will reduce the church to a legalistic club, in which truly godly brothers and sisters will never feel at home. Instead, carnal 'Yes-men' (who implicitly obey us) will get power.
We cannot produce holiness in others by a multitude of laws. We must preach the Word, but not force people to conform to a particular pattern. If people do things merely to please us, without personal conviction, their actions will be mere dead works, even if those works look "righteous" and good in man's eyes.
Dead works are good works that are done in order to please or impress people, or works done to ease one's conscience. All dead works are unacceptable to God. The works that God accepts are those that are done to please Him alone. In order to lead the brothers and sisters to do such works, they must be left free - as free as God left Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. True holiness can be perfected only in the fear of God (2 Cor.7:1), and not through the fear of Christian leaders.
Having a Father's Heart
We must never love our position or the title of 'elder'. We must never imagine ourselves to be greater in any way than any of the other brothers and sisters. In fact, we are commanded to consider all others in the church as more important than ourselves (Phil.2:3).
If God raises up others to a place of ministry, where the brothers have greater confidence in them than in us, then we must acknowledge this as God's doing, and graciously step back and give such anointed brothers greater prominence in the church. Otherwise we will find ourselves fighting against God Himself.
A true spiritual father will long that his spiritual children should advance beyond him spiritually. If we don't have such a longing for others, we are not spiritual fathers. Then we are unfit to be elders. We will then be a hindrance to the building of Christ's Body in our locality.
God will Shake Whatever can be Shaken
Our Bible-knowledge, the eloquence of our preaching and our soul-power over others are all no indication that God is happy with us. God is longsuffering and waits for a long time before He acts in judgment.
Some elders may imagine that they have gotten away with their authoritarian attitudes and the partiality that they have shown to their friends in the church etc. But the Lord has taken careful note of everything and He has kept an accurate record of all matters. And when His time comes, He will act speedily. Then you will see that He does not spare any elder who is a hypocrite, or who lords it over his flock, or who rules others with severity, etc. We will see in that day that there is no partiality with God! So, " let him who thinks he is standing take heed lest he fall" (1 Cor.10:12).
Hebrews 12:26-28 tells us that " God will shake and remove all the things that can be shaken, so that those things that cannot be shaken may remain ."
Around us, in Christendom, we see great preachers falling into sin, and churches that seemed to be following the New-Testament pattern, splitting and being shaken to the core. If we are to build the Body of Christ unshakable in the midst of all the shaking that is going on today, in the midst of the worldliness and compromise that we see on the one hand in Christendom, and all the legalism and Phariseeism that is found on the other hand, we must serve God, as the above verses in Hebrews tell us, "with reverence and awe - because our God is a consuming fire."
The Sin of Presumption
God will not allow a believer to sit in a church and criticize it, even if his intentions are good. If he is unhappy in a church (for any reason), he should leave that church and go and join another.
Consider this example: In the tabernacle, only the Kohathites (descendants of Levi) were permitted to handle the ark of God. When Uzzah (who was not a Kohathite) touched it once, with the good intention of steadying it, when it was about to topple, God smote him dead (2 Sam.6:6, 7). What can we learn from this incident?
The church belongs to the Lord and He alone has the right to criticise and correct it through His anointed servants. In Revelation chapters 2 and 3, we see that the Lord sent His corrections to the elders and the churches through the apostles.
It is improper then for one who has not been given such authority by the Lord, to correct or criticize a church - even if he thinks that the church is about to topple. God can protect His church without any help from such Uzzahs!
A believer can rebuke someone who sins against him personally (as we read in Luke 17:3 and Matt.18:15). But he is not permitted to criticize a local church - if he has no God-given responsibility therein. Everyone in our churches must know their boundaries in this matter. When believers criticize and find fault with their local church, it proves that they do not fear God. They are Uzzahs - and God will punish them in one way or the other. The safest thing for them to do is to leave that church.
The Majority is Usually Wrong
We can have no fellowship with those who teach contrary to the Word of God and to what Jesus taught. It is better to stand alone with God than with a multitude without God.
Remember that, in Christendom in general, the majority is usually wrong.
Here are five examples from the Word of God where we see that:
1. When the majority worshipped the calf, Moses asked who was on the Lord's side. Only one tribe (Levi) stood with him. They were therefore given the priesthood (Exod.32, 33). The majority (the 11 tribes) were wrong.
2. When 12 spies were sent to check out the land of Canaan, 10 of them (the majority) were unbelieving (Num.13 and14). But God was with the minority - Joshua and Caleb. The decision the majority of the people took that day determined the destiny of 600,000 people who died in the wilderness, for their disobedience.
3. The decision Saul took to attack God's anointed David led to disaster. Saul had the majority of Israel with him. But God was with David (1 Sam.16). Later, Absalom too had the majority of Israel with him when he chased out his father David. But God was with David (2 Sam.15).
4. The decision the Jews took to reject Jesus when He came to earth resulted in their being scattered for nearly 1900 years. The majority were with the Jews and the Pharisees. But God was with Jesus and raised Him from the dead.
The majority of Paul's friends forsook him at the end of his life. But the Lord was with Paul until the end (2 Tim.1:15; 4:16-18).
There is a great difference in the way religious Christendom and the word of God view the concept of wickedness and righteousness. Religious Christendom thinks of wicked people as those who do sinful things; and righteous people as those who do good things and go to church, read the Bible and pray.
But the word of God says that " the wicked are those who trust in themselves alone and fail, and the righteous are those who trust in God and live" (Hab.2:4 - Living Bible). The mark of a wicked man is that he trusts in himself, and the mark of a righteous man is that he trusts in God.
This is the choice that God gave Adam in the garden of Eden, in what the two trees symbolized - the tree of knowledge of good and evil and the tree of life: Either have the knowledge of good and evil resident within you, so that you yourself decide what is good and what is evil. That is a life of trust in yourself. Or have the life of God within you so that God tells you what is good and what is evil. That is a life of trust in God.
Jesus said that man must live by 'every word that proceeds from the mouth of God' (Matt.4:4). This is the whole basis of new-covenant life - always hearing God and living by what He has said. The alternative to this is to live by reason - symbolized by the tree of knowledge of good and evil. By this tree, one can attain to an externally upright life in the eyes of men. But it will not be "perfect in the eyes of God" (Rev.3:2), for it will not be a life of faith - that is, a life of perpetual dependence on God - symbolized by the tree of life.
Circumcision of the Heart
Many old covenant rituals have a fulfilment in the new covenant. Circumcision was a very important ritual under the old covenant. Surely, such an important ritual must have a significant spiritual meaning in the new covenant - and it does.
Its meaning is described for us in Philippians 3:3, 4: "We are the true circumcision who worship in the Spirit of God, glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh" . These three expressions are all related to each other. To worship in the Spirit is to glory in Christ alone and is manifested by a life where we have no confidence in the flesh.
In physical circumcision people cut off a part of their physical flesh. In spiritual circumcision, we cut off our confidence in the flesh (our Self-life) and put it to death. In the Old Testament those who were not circumcised could not be a part of Israel (Gen.17:14). In the New Testament, anyone who has confidence in himself cannot be a part of the true church of Jesus Christ. Only those who glory in Christ alone and have no confidence in themselves are part of the true church. If we glory in the fact that we have built our church better than what others have built, God will have no place for us in His true church.
Acts 7:41 speaks of people who glory in the work of their own hands. If we boast in what we have accomplished, then we are spiritually uncircumcised. If you feel that you yourself have accomplished something, then your faith has failed. Then God in His love for you, will allow you to " fish all night and catch nothing" (John 21:3), in order to teach you that true faith means a total dependence on Him alone.
One day Nebuchadnezzar stood on the roof of his palace and gloated over the great kingdom of Babylon that he had built (Dan.4:29, 30). As soon as he thought like that, God removed his kingdom from him and made him like an animal. It took him many years thereafter to be restored to sanity. Like him, many believers also gloat inwardly over what they have accomplished for God. But Nebuchadnezzar finally repented of his folly and glorified God (Dan.4:34-36). He was finally circumcised in heart. The sad thing is that many Christian leaders have not experienced this spiritual circumcision.
God wants us to be circumcised in heart so that we can love Him with all our heart (Deut.30:6). That is the mark of circumcision of the heart. We are not circumcised if we love ourselves and glory in ourselves.
God's Need - Not Man's Need
If you begin to glory in your work for the Lord, the anointing of the Holy Spirit will leave you, even though you may still retain any gift God gave you. Satan still has his gifts that God gave him when he created him as a perfect angel. But he lost the anointing of God. He "was the anointed cherub" once, but not now (Eze.28:14, 18).
Your so-called "Christian ministry" then will be a ministry to people and not a ministry to God. You need to distinguish between these two ministries. Many leaders see a need among the people and seek to meet that need - and thus imagine that they are doing a great work for God. But their minds are attuned to man's need and not to God's need. Man's need may be that he needs to be saved, healed, delivered, etc. God's need however is that His name should be glorified, His kingdom should be established and His will should be done on earth as it is done in heaven - as Jesus taught us to pray (Matt.6:9,10). " Give us this day our daily bread" is a good prayer to pray if it comes after "Hallowed be God's Name" in your order of priorities. If your ministry meets man's need primarily, then it is a shallow, empty, man-centred ministry.
Our primary prayer should be that the name of the Lord Jesus should be glorified in the church and not that people's needs are met. Jesus said that our light should shine in such a way that when people saw our good works they would glorify God (Matt.5:16). When we are circumcised in heart, our interest will only be to glorify God. The spiritually uncircumcised man is interested in receiving glory from man. When people tell him that the word he shared was a blessing to them, he begins to glory in that.
Israel saw the works that God did, but Moses saw God's ways as well (See Psa.103:7). Even now, many Christians who do not know God are impressed only by His works. They are happy that people are getting saved and healed, etc. But they are not seeking for God's name to be glorified.
The first request of our heart must be that God's Name should be hallowed. Our first prayer must not be concerning our sicknesses, our financial difficulties, the needs of our family, etc., but rather that the Lord's Name should be glorified in us and through us. Others may be causing us many problems - but resolving those should be secondary. The glory of God should be our only concern (1 Cor.10:31). Then God will deal with all our other problems. But we have to be circumcised in our heart in order to think like this.
Many people think that Jesus came down from heaven because He saw man's need. But He came only when the Father sent Him. For 4000 years after Adam sinned He waited in heaven. We may think that Jesus should have rushed down to earth as soon as Adam fell into sin. But there is a right time for everything that God does.
When Jesus saw the multitude as sheep without a shepherd, He did not tell His disciples to go and meet that need. No. He told them to pray that the Father would send forth labourers (Matt.9:36-38). Only the Father can send forth true shepherds. This is very different from the way "missionary challenges" are heard in Christendom today, where people are informed about a need and urged to go and meet that need immediately, without waiting for God to call them. This is one of the primary reasons for so much confusion and chaos in God's work today.
Led by the Holy Spirit
If we study the ministry of men of God who planted churches and accomplished so much in their one life, we will notice that they were led by God to the exact places where God wanted them to go - either to sow the seed or to reap the harvest. Thus they fulfilled God's exact plan for their lives.
We should not waste our life, trying out various ministries, and later discovering that those were not in God's perfect plan for our lives. To avoid such failures, we must develop the habit of listening to God to discover His plans for our ministry - and then do exactly what He tells us to do, going only where He tells us to go. We must not be moved by men, but only by God.
God speaks to those who have the patience to wait before Him and listen to His voice. The very first chapter of the Bible tells us that God speaks every single day - and that miracles happen when He speaks . Even today, God wants us to begin the day by listening to His voice and then to keep on listening to Him throughout the day. "Morning by morning he wakens me and opens my understanding to His will" (Isa.50:4). We can live a fulfilled life only if we listen to " every word that is constantly proceeding from the mouth of God " (Matt.4:4).
When Paul was going to Asia Minor and passing through Galatia, the Holy Spirit stopped him from going to Asia (Acts 16:6). We see there that Paul was constantly listening for guidance from God as to where to go. That is how he moved from place to place in the will of God - and thus accomplished so much in his one life. Thus he was led to stay on at that time in the Galatian region for a while. Thus some churches were planted in Galatia. "The steps (and stops) of a godly man are guided by the Lord" (Psa.37:23).
When we read Paul's letter to the Galatians, we discover that the way by which the Holy Spirit stopped Paul in Galatia was by allowing him to fall sick (Gal.4:13). The ways of God are amazing. The Galatians then received Paul as a messenger of God even though he was a sick man (Gal.4:14). Many proud Christians would judge a servant of God who is sick, imagining that there must be some un-confessed sin in his life or that he does not have faith for healing. But the Galatians were humble and did not judge Paul like that. Paul did not complain about his sickness either. Thus he fulfilled God's perfect plan. If we are totally submitted to God like Paul, God will use even our sicknesses to work out for the fulfilment of His perfect plan for our lives.
In Acts 16:10 the narration suddenly changes from 'they' to 'we'. That was where Luke the physician (who wrote the book of Acts) joined Paul. Paul was a sick man, but he was too poor to afford a doctor. So God sent him Doctor Luke to travel with him thereafter. Thus the Lord provides every need of His servants who trust Him and who place no confidence in their flesh.
Ministry Must Flow out of our Inner Life
There is much in the Scriptures to encourage us if we seek for revelation. The valuable treasures of Scripture are not on its surface. We have to dig deep and cry out for the revelation of the Holy Spirit if we are to find them (See Prov.25:2).
The Holy Spirit has come to take the things of Jesus and reveal them to us (John 16:14). That is not referring to matters like Jesus healing the sick or casting out demons. You don't need the revelation of the Spirit to see such things. The Holy Spirit has come to show us the inner life and attitudes of Jesus. For example, the apostles never knew during the 3½ years that they walked with Jesus that He was being tempted all the time, exactly as they were, but He never sinned. That revelation came to them only after they were filled with the Holy Spirit.
The entire ministry of Jesus flowed from His inner life. Our ministry too must flow from our inner walk with God. Otherwise our ministry will be superficial. Many believers appear good on the outside - like a teak-veneer pasted on plywood. If someone irritates them, what is inside comes out - just as the plywood shows up if the veneer is scratched. But when God does a work in us it goes to the very depths of our being. It is in our heart that God circumcises us. Then we will be genuinely holy, through and through.
The Hidden Life before God
In the new covenant, faith means to trust in God, give glory to Him and to have no confidence in oneself. Jesus said that the reason why some cannot have faith is because they seek for honour from men (John 5:44).
Two brothers in a church may both look humble outwardly and apparently doing a lot of 'good' work as well. But only one of them may be living before God's face, looking to Jesus alone and judging himself; he knows that he can do nothing of himself and so he leans upon the Lord totally. The other brother who appears humble may be self-confident and inwardly imagining that he is better than others! The first brother's work will be a work of faith that lasts for eternity. The second brother's work will perish with this earth.
So live before God's face alone. And compare yourself with Jesus alone - and never compare yourself with anyone else. "Those who compare themselves with others are spiritually foolish" (2 Cor.10:12).
Elijah stood before the Lord and spoke (1Kings.17:1). If we stand before the Lord alone and speak, then we will not speak to impress people.
When Israel had backslidden, God said that the Levites who had allowed uncircumcised people to enter His sanctuary would be permitted from then onwards to minister only to the people and not to Him (Ezek.44:6-14). That was their punishment: They could no longer minister to the Lord.
The sons of Zadok however, who had not gone astray along with the people, were allowed to minister to the Lord (Ezek.44:15). There is a world of difference between ministering to people and ministering to the Lord.
After the sons of Zadok had ministered to the Lord in the inner sanctuary, when they went out to the people, they were told by the Lord to leave their linen (holy) clothing behind in the holy chambers (Ezek.44:19). They were not to let the people see that. We must not show people the secret dealings that we have with the Lord in our inner life. When we fast, we must not let anyone know that we are fasting (Matt.6:17, 18). We cannot make others holy by telling them about our private walk with God. Only those who are circumcised in their hearts can become holy.
Those who live by faith will have a hidden walk with God. If anyone expresses their appreciation to them, they will immediately give the glory to God - not outwardly in the hearing of people (to get their honour), but secretly, inwardly.
It is difficult for us to keep ourselves from spiritual pride. But God will help us, if He sees that that is what we really want. If He sees that our longing is to walk humbly before Him, He will arrange circumstances such that we will be humbled as soon as we begin to become big in our own eyes. He helped Paul by giving him a thorn in his flesh. And He will help us in some way too.
If we have faith, all things will be possible for us (Mark 9:23). Many read the words of God but they do not hear His voice through them. Faith does not come by reading, but by hearing the words of Christ (Rom.10:17). It is not written that all things are possible for those who have victory over sin, but for those who have faith. If we are holy in our lives but do not have faith, we cannot receive much from God.
Discipline through the Body of Christ
We must go where God wants us to go, and not anywhere we choose. We cannot accomplish anything of eternal value if we plan our own lives. Humanly speaking, there are differences among us. Some are clever and capable while others are not. But it is the anointing that makes us effective for God's work, and that does not depend on our human abilities but on faith and humility.
The mouth speaks from that which fills the heart (Matt.12:34). Even if you are careful with your words, the tone of your voice can still reveal some pride in your heart. You are blessed if you can discover such pride and humble yourself.
The Holy Spirit can also convict us by showing us Christlike humility in another brother. We can see the glory of God not only through the messages we hear, but also through the lives of godly brothers.
When we come into the church we are of different shapes and sizes - intellectually and professionally, etc. But the Lord seeks to bring us all down to the same level in the church through His discipline. For those who are interested in this type of cleansing, the true church is the best place to be in. If we want our hearts to be circumcised, we must embrace every circumstance that God uses to break us and humble us.
Why God Delays Answers
We don't understand why God delays answers to some of our prayers. But His way is perfect and He makes our way perfect (Psa.18:30, 32).
Jesus said (in Acts 1:7), that we are not permitted to know the timing of events, for God has reserved that within His own power.
Certain matters belong to God alone. For example, man is not permitted:
1. to receive worship (Matt.4:10);
2. to receive glory (Isa.42:8);
3. to take vengeance (Rom.12:19);
4. to know the timing of events (Acts 1:7).
All these four are God's prerogatives. All Christians would readily accept (1) and (2) above. Many will also accept (3) also. But spiritual men will accept (4) as well, just as readily as they accept the other three. So when the Lord delays in answering some of our prayers for a long time, we must humbly accept His will.
God is still on the throne and He always remembers His own and He makes all things work together for our good.
"He always wins who sides with God - to him no chance
God's will is sweetest to him when it triumphs at his cost."
So, let us continue " to give ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the Word" (Acts 6:4). We will then be able to " preach the kingdom of God and teach concerning the Lord Jesus - unhindered" (Acts 28:31).
Living Waters Flowing Out from Us
There are needy believers all over the world, who need to hear the good news of the new covenant. Believers in many lands are being exploited in these days, by preachers who are after their money, and by cult-leaders who dominate them. We are called to proclaim liberty to all these enslaved believers.
To know where to go, we need to be sensitive to the Spirit's leading (Isa.30:21). The time is nearing when many believers will not want to hear the truth. So we must be ready to preach the Word at all times - when it is convenient for us and also when it is not convenient (2 Tim.4:2, 3).
Let us claim God's promise then and believe that"living waters will flow out from our church in all directions - toward the east and toward the west - throughout the year"
But how are those living waters to flow out from us to others?
In Psalm 23:5, we read of "our cups running over".
The original Hebrew word used there for "running over" is " revayyah". This word is used (in the Hebrew) in only one other place in the Bible - in Psalm 66:12, where it is translated as " place
of abundance ".
So we conclude that to come to this place where our "cups run over " with living waters, we have to go through the experiences mentioned in the verses previous to Psalm 66:12 - that is verses 10 to 12, where we read that:
• God will refine us like silver;
• God will bring us into a net (tight circumstances);
• God will allow oppressive burdens to be placed on us by others;
• God will allow people to ride over our heads;
• God will put us into a blazing "fire" (fiery trials);
• God will then put us into "icy-cold water" (with no ' feelings' of His presence).
Those who accept these disciplines of God in their lives will finally find their cups overflowing in blessing to others. Praise the Lord!!
If there are two things that are an abomination to the Lord, they are hypocrisy and spiritual pride.
If we don't recognise these two as among the greatest of all evils, we are in great danger. When Jesus was on earth, these were the two evils that he saw in the Pharisees, and that was why he blasted them with the strongest words of denunciation that He ever used against anyone (Matt.23). He is the same today and He will use the same language to denounce Phariseeism wherever He sees it - and much more so, if it is found among the elders of churches.
God resists every proud person - believer or unbeliever, elder or younger. He gives His grace only to the humble - and there is no partiality with Him (1 Pet.5:5). To express that pictorially: If we are humble, God will come behind us and push us forward continually in our Christian life. But if we are proud, God will come in front of us and push us back continually. Satan, the world and the flesh are already pushing us back. So there will be no hope for us if God also pushes us back. Pride is the Number One reason why many elders never make any spiritual progress in their lives and why there is no anointing in their messages.
So we must pursue humility with all our hearts if we are to be effective elders.
The Example of John the Baptist
John the Baptist is a great example for us, in humility. He was sent by God to prepare people for the first coming of Christ. We are now called to prepare people for the second coming Of Christ.
Here are some important lessons that we can learn from John the Baptist, whom Jesus called the greatest prophet of all:
1. John said he was only a voice (John 1:19-23). He did not want to be seen or known as a prophet or a man of God. He was content to be just a voice for God.
2. He wanted to decrease more and more, so that Jesus would be greater in the eyes of others (John 3:30).
3. He said he was unfit even to carry Jesus' sandals (Matt.3:11). Any intimacy that we have with Jesus should never make us lose the reverence that we have for Him as God.
4. John did not advertise himself. Yet many came to hear him (Matt.3:5). If you are an anointed man of God with a message from God, then God-fearing people will travel many miles to come and hear you, even if your church is located in an out-of-the way place like the desert where John preached.
Here is a lovely poem that tells us how we should hide ourselves and exalt Christ, whenever we preach God's Word:
He held the lamp of truth that day
So low that none could miss the way;
And yet so high to bring in sight,
That picture fair - the world's great Light.
That gazing up, the lamp between,
The hand that held it scarce was seen.
He held the pitcher, stooping low,
To lips of little ones below.
Then raised it to the weary saint,
And bade him drink when sick and faint.
They drank the pitcher, thus between,
The hand that held it scarce was seen.
He blew the trumpet soft and clear,
That trembling sinners need not fear.
And then with louder note, and bold
To raze the walls of Satan's hold,
The trumpet coming thus between,
The hand that held it scarce was seen.
But when the Captain says, "Well done,
Thou good and faithful servant, come,"
Lay down the pitcher and the lamp,
Lay down the trumpet, leave the camp,
The weary hand will then he seen
Clasped in those pierced ones - naught between.
If we are truly eager to be like that, then Christ will be seen in us and God will be glorified through our lives. But Satan will do everything to puff us up about numerous things in order to destroy us. So we must be watchful.
The moment we begin to think of eldership as anything greater than the work that a servant does in a home, and as washing people's feet (as Jesus did), we can be certain that pride has entered in and we have begun to backslide. It will only be a matter of time then, before we fall from the grace of God. If we have begun to love our position as elders, then we can be certain that we have gone astray already.
Sin that Crouches at the Door
Spiritual pride is the sin that crouches at the door of all who have a ministry in the church. Even Paul admitted that he was in danger of exalting himself (2 Cor.12:7). But he was saved from it because he recognised the danger. If we live in constant alertness to this danger of spiritual pride, then it will never enter our heart at any time.
At all times, we must let the Spirit of God show us the glory of the humility of Jesus Who chose to be "despised and forsaken by men" (Isa.53:3) throughout His earthly life. We must hate the very thought of getting a name for ourselves - either for our spirituality or for our ministry.
We have to rebuke sin boldly in the church. But we can have Divine authority to do that only if we have been faithful in cleansing ourselves first. What we have judged in our own flesh we can judge in the church - that, and nothing more. All preaching that goes beyond what we have seen and judged in our own flesh is mere hypocrisy .
Spiritual Pride When God Blesses Us
Spiritual pride is a great danger that all of us face at all times - and especially when the Lord blesses our labours. It is very easy then to imagine that we have become "somebodies", when we are always " nobodies". Then God Himself will oppose us and fight against us - for God opposes all proud people, whoever they may be. When we are gifted, or when things have gone well in our personal life and family life, or when our church is growing, or when we get rich materially, it is very easy to be puffed up.
We need to get light on our spiritual pride and selfishness, more than on any other sin. It is very easy for us to deceive ourselves in these areas. We can imagine that we are very humble and unselfish when we are actually quite proud and self-centred. Satan is a great deceiver.
Here are some evidences of spiritual pride that can enable us to see our true condition: getting offended, getting angry, sexually impure thought-patterns, unwillingness to acknowledge error, delaying in apologizing, delaying in restoring fellowship with our fellow-believers in the church, etc.
Why is it that an elder brother who will seek restoration of fellowship with his wife quickly is not so eager to seek restoration of fellowship with other believers and elders, even though Jesus commanded us to love our brothers exactly as we love our wives? (Eph.5:25 and John 13:34 are exactly identical commands). It is because he desperately needs peace at home. But he doesn't feel the same desperate need for peace with his brothers in the church! His selfishness and his spiritual pride have blinded him from hearing the promptings of the Holy Spirit to humble himself and apologize to his brothers.
Spiritual Pride Builds Babylon
A proud elder will behave like a dictator in his church and will run it like a CEO runs his company. Such a man will never be able to build the church as a Body.
Spiritual pride is like body-odour and mouth-odour. We cannot smell it ourselves but others can smell it. For example, when an elder boasts about his ministry, he does not realize the stinking spiritual pride emanating from him. But a godly person will sense the spiritual pride in him immediately.
A proud attitude in an elder will make his church a Babylonian church, as we saw in the attitude that Nebuchadnezzar had (Dan. 4:30), God humbled him and rejected him immediately.
Jesus once spoke of a Pharisee who prayed saying, "God, I thank Thee that I am not like other people....." (Luke 18:11). He too was rejected by God immediately.
Elders Who Behave Like Politicians
It is very easy for an elder to act like a politician - doing and saying things in order to win the approval of the people in his church, rather than seeking for the approval of the Lord alone. If you do that, you will not only become a backslider, but a hireling as well. Anyone who seeks to please men can never be a servant of Christ (Gal.1:10).
It is God's approval that we all need, and not the approval or the esteem of the brothers and sisters in our churches or even of any apostle. The approval of man is easy to get, if you use the right psychology and management techniques! By keeping everyone happy, you may retain your position as an elder in your church. But God won't be happy either with you or with your church.
Paul recognized that all his labours had to be offered up as an offering to God and therefore they had to be acceptable in God's sight (Rom. 15:16). The approval of God is not an easy thing to obtain - for He weighs our thoughts and intentions and our attitudes and motives. If we do not put our self-life to death in secret, the results of our labours will never be acceptable in God's sight.
We all make many mistakes and do many foolish things when we are immature. But if we make it a habit to learn from each mistake that we make and from each foolish thing that we do, then we can make great progress. To repeat a folly however, is to be like a dog that turns back to eat what it vomited out (Prov.26:11).
Overcoming Spiritual Pride
Spiritual pride will also produce a lack of respect for older brothers and for those whom God Himself has borne witness to. Such an elder will expect others in his church to submit to him, but he will be unwilling himself to submit to any spiritual authority that God has placed over him. This lack of respect will be increasingly prevalent among Christians in the last days. We see it all around us nowadays in many children and young people - in the way they speak to older, godly brothers.
The examples of Diotrephes (3 John 1:9) and of the five backslidden elders of the churches that John wrote to (Rev.2 and 3) are a warning to all of us. As we considered earlier, if those elders had judged themselves, God would have shown them their failures directly, Himself. He would not then have had to point out their failures through the apostle John.
When we stop judging ourselves, we will start preaching, as though we are experts. And the Lord will not stand by us. So, we must judge ourselves every day and live in small thoughts about ourselves and our ministry at all times. We must constantly check ourselves to see if God is bearing witness to our life and our labours (Gal.6:4). If not, then something is seriously wrong.
Here is a threefold exhortation I would give to all elders:
1. Always be a worshipper of God, with your face in the dust.
2. Always remember that you are just an ordinary brother.
3. Always meditate on the Lord's love for you instead of imagining that you love Him a lot.
To be "poor in spirit" is to " rate yourself as insignificant" (Matt.5:3 - Amplified Bible) and to live with a constant sense of personal, spiritual need.
Elders Must Get God's Approval
The fact that the Lord has given us the privilege to lead the brothers and sisters in our local church does not mean that we have been approved by the Lord. That approval has to be won, over a period of time. We are all under probation - and the Lord Himself will test us in different situations before committing Himself to us (See John 2:24). Timothy was exhorted by Paul to gain God's approval, even after Timothy had already been serving God for 25 years (See 2 Tim.2:15). Wholehearted as Timothy was, he still needed to get God's approval. The fact that Paul thought highly of him (as we see in Phil.2:19-22) was quite irrelevant to this.
The Lord's words to the messengers of the five churches (in Rev.2 and 3) indicate how even in those early days, the vast majority of the elders of the churches backslid very quickly. Those elders were totally disapproved by the Lord. Yet they retained their positions as elders and were still considered as the "messengers" of their churches. That should bring a fear into our hearts - a fear that should remain with us always. Remember that King Saul sat on the throne for at least 10 years after he had lost the anointing of God - before God finally removed Him.
To us also the Lord says, as He said to each of the seven elders in Revelation 2 and 3: "I know your works........." - and there is no partiality with the Lord.
Elders Must be Ordinary Brothers
Many "Pastors" act like mediators between the believers in their church and Christ! Beware of giving this impression to people. Only if you make a determined effort will you be able to remove this opinion from the minds of simple-minded people who have come from churches where they were under such a "Pastor". If people in your church consider you as their "Pastor-Mediator", the fault is certainly with you. They must see you as their servant and their brother and as an ordinary brother, just like them.
You must also be careful as an elder not to act like an authoritarian " Pastor", even if you don't use that title! You must never connect anyone to yourself or make anyone dependent on you spiritually. If anyone does not follow your advice, he is not sinning thereby. He sins only if he disobeys God - not if he disobeys you - and they must all know that.
We must work hard to lead everyone in our church to maturity. Otherwise our ministry will be a failure. We must not have brothers around us who just say, "Yes brother, Yes brother", to us. The brothers in our church must grow up to know God personally and not be dependent on us perpetually. Those of us who have a strong personality must pour out our soul-power to death, so that others around us can grow up to maturity, without being dependent on us. We must not intimidate people by our personality. If our ministry is pleasing to God, He will give us grace to build the church as a family, where others grow up to maturity just like our children grow up in our own families.
It is good to seek for an honest appraisal of your life and your preaching from someone more mature than you, who will be bold enough to tell you the truth. If your wife is spiritual enough to do that, that would be ideal. If not, then ask some godly brother in whom you have confidence to tell you what he really thinks of you and your ministry. And tell him to be ruthlessly frank and honest with you. Then judge yourself and correct yourself, accordingly. Godly men can see your spiritual state much more clearly than you can see it yourself.
It is easy to become "dictators" who lord it over the brothers and sisters in our churches. Jesus said: "These leaders love to sit at the head table at church dinners, basking in the most prominent positions, preening in the radiance of public flattery, receiving honorary degrees, and getting called 'Doctor' and 'Reverend.' Don't let people do that to you and put you on a pedestal like that. You all have a single Teacher, and you are all classmates. And don't let people manoeuver you into taking charge of them . There is only one Life-Leader for you and them - Christ. Do you want to stand out? Then step down. Be a servant. If you puff yourself up, you'll get the wind knocked out of you. But if you're content to simply be yourself, your life will count for plenty." (Matt.23:6-12 - Message Paraphrase)
Elders must never seek to control their flock in any way in their private lives. We must distinguish between "church matters" and "private matters". As elders, we are not called to run every aspect of a person's life. And more than 90% of matters that believers deal with are private matters. In all such matters, they must be free to make their own decisions. An elder must never interfere in such matters, for that would amount to dictatorship. Churches with dictatorial elders will end up as cults and not as the Body of Christ.
The Last Become First
From God's viewpoint, many who are last in this world are first in His eyes.
This is an amazing truth that comes through in seven of Jesus' parables:
1. In Matthew 20:1: The labourers who came at the 11th hour, having wasted 90% of their life (11 out of 12 hours) were rewarded first.
2. In Luke 15:22: The younger son who lost 50% of his father's wealth (his share) and dishonoured his father's name still got "the best robe" in the house and the "ring" - both of which the self-righteous elder brother did not get.
3. In Luke 7:41: The one who had sinned more (and was forgiven more) ended up loving more (thus being closer to the Lord).
4. In Matthew 21:28: The son who was rebellious at first ended up doing the will of his father finally, unlike his brother.
5. In Luke 15:3: The lost sheep got closer to the Shepherd than the other sheep - being carried on the Shepherd's shoulders.
6. In Luke 14:10: The one who took the last place at the wedding-feast, got the most prominent place.
7. In Luke 18:9: The crooked tax-collector who was externally much worse than the Pharisee got ahead of the latter - for God declared him righteous.
All these parables bring forth one message - that many who start off badly finally end up winning the prize.
It is how we finish the race that matters and not how we begin. Those whodon't get discouraged and who don't condemn themselves because of the bad start they made in their lives (like Paul) will end up ahead of many others who started well. This should encourage all who have made a mess of their lives, never to give up in discouragement, but to press on in the race.
Paul had made a mess of the first 30 years of his life, before he met Jesus. But he decided to do just"one thing" thereafter: Press on to become like Jesus -forgetting all his past failures and onlylooking ahead to become like Jesus in the short time that was left for him on earth (Phil.3:13,14). This also included fulfilling the ministry that God had called him to. And at the end of his life, he said, "I have finished the race and now a crown awaits me in heaven" (2 Tim.4:7).
Paul told the carnal Christians at Corinth to"run in such a way as to win the first prize"
(1 Cor.9:24). Even those carnal Christians could come first in the Christian race, if they repented and ran with determination and discipline. This is the hope that we as elders, must give to the every Christian who has failed, if they will only repent and determine to press toward the mark of becoming Christlike, at any cost.
Money given for the Lord's work is the most sacred of all the money there is in the world. If anyone is unfaithful with it, he will certainly bring a curse upon himself and upon his family. Those who are wrong in money-matters will be wrong in everything else as well.
Jesus said that God gives His true riches only to those who are faithful with money (Luke 16:11). If we are careless with money, we will miss out on God's true riches in our lives.
Money and Babylon
Babylonian missions in Christendom have three characteristics:
1. They do NOT preachdiscipleship and so they do not make even a few disciples . They make converts - and even most of those converts are not properly converted.
2. They do NOT preach new-covenant church principles and so they do not separate themselves from dead denominations. They do not even attempt to build a local expression of the Body of Christ. They build only old-covenant congregations and Christian clubs .
3. They do NOT preach or practice the financial policies that Jesus and Paul followed. They advertise their work widely, and unashamedly beg for money even from nominal "Christians" in dead denominations. They pay monthly salaries to their pastors (just like worldly corporations pay their employees).
Jesus said that there were only two masters that we could serve - God or Money. And so, handling finances aright is a very important matter for every elder and every church.
A curse came on Gehazi because he asked Naaman for money for God's work and kept the money for himself (2 Kings 5:21-27). A curse came on Judas Iscariot because he took money for himself that was meant for the poor.
There are Gehazis and Judas Iscariots to be found everywhere in Christendom. If a Judas was found even in Jesus' church, you can be certain that some Judases may be found in your church too. Satan has his agents everywhere. So elders must be extremely careful with church money, more than with their own money.
The way we use God's money is an indication of our attitude towards the work God has committed to us. Elders are answerable to God as to how the money given generously and sacrificially by God's people, for their church's ministry, is being used.
Babylon and money are closely linked. We see this clearly in Revelation 18. The principles of Babylon are found in the way many Christian missions are run in almost every country in the world. We have only one message for believers who are in such missions: "Come out of Babylon, My people, says the Lord" (Rev.18:4).
Freedom from Debt
The first step that we need to take in the matter of money is being righteous. And for that we must first of all, be free from all debt and teach all our believers also to be free from debt.
Many elders do not teach the New-Testament command on being free from debt strongly enough. The Holy Spirit commands us clearly that we should not owe anything to anyone (Rom.13:8). The Holy Spirit has not said that believers should never borrow money from anyone. God knows that there can be emergency situations, like unexpected medical expenses, or large fees for a child's education, where poor believers may have to borrow money. But if they do that, they must not borrow more than they can return within a reasonable period of time. And they must be taught to make every effort to clear the debt as soon as possible - even if it be by paying back small amounts each month.
A brother who is finding it difficult to pay back a large debt should even consider selling some of the valuables in his house, in order to pay back his debt. Unfortunately, many elders do not take such commands of God seriously - and that is why God does not back them up with His authority.
Believers must be given practical advice by their elders on (1) how to live simply and (2) how to save some money every month. Thus they can avoid getting into debt when they have some urgent need later on. I have helped many believers (who came to join our church) to be free from debt, not by giving them money, but by just teaching them how to live simply and how to practice financial discipline.
"The borrower is a slave of the lender" (Prov.22:7) - and it is not good for a child of God to be a slave to anyone. So everyone must clear their debts as soon as possible, even if this is done a little at a time. God sees whether we have a willing heart to obey His Word, even when we have very little (2 Cor.8:12). If a loan has been in existence for more than six months, then the righteous thing for the borrower to do is to add the prevailing annual bank interest to the loan when returning it (as Zaccheus did - Luke 19:8).
As elders, we are responsible before God to teach our church-members to live lives free from debt. We must not allow our believers to remain living with this sin of debt any more than we would permit them to live in adultery!
Note : A house-mortgage (loan) or a loan for a vehicle need not be considered as a debt, because there is a house (or a vehicle) to show for the loan. Even a business-loan may be considered permissible in certain cases - if it is for a business that is making profit. But many believers who have no business-ability have gone into debt for years, because they tried to start a business without considering their own lack of business-ability or the market-situation. Believers who are planning to take a large business-loan must be told to consult their elders first.
Credit-card debt is a very serious debt, because it can increase very quickly. All believers must be urged to use a debit-card in preference to a credit-card, wherever possible. If they do use a credit card, for its advantages, then they must pay their credit-card billevery month. If they miss this paymenteven for one month, they should discipline themselves, not to use their credit card, until they have cleared their debt fully. God will honour those who deal radically with debt like that. Believers must also be taught not to buy expensive items on credit . They should first save up the needed money and then buy the item. That is the way Jesus would have done it. Most debt is the result of covetousness and an un-disciplined way of living and spending.
Learn from the Lowly Ant
Elders must also teach believers to save up some money every month. To do this, a family must cut down their monthly expenditure and not attempt to live at a higher standard than they can afford - imitating others around them who may be living at a higher level. They should not waste money on unnecessary purchases or by throwing lavish parties. A lot of parties are thrown only to get honour from others - which is actually a form of idolatry. Hospitality should be practised only within the limits of a family's financial ability. It is far more important to save up money for a family's future needs than to get a reputation for hospitality.
The Bible says that fathers must save up money for their children (2 Cor.12:14b). Trusting in God is NOT contradictory to saving up money for one's family. The Bible commands us to go and learn wisdom from one of the smallest creatures on earth - the ant. The ant, knowing that difficult times will come in winter, stores up food in summer (Prov.6:6-11). We must learn from the ant to save up for unexpected future expenses. It is amazing that the tiny brain of an ant has more wisdom in it than the huge brains of many human beings!
Educating one's children and medical treatment for family members can be very expensive - and believers must be taught to save up for that. The Holy Spirit says that any believer who does not provide for his family's needs is worse than an unbeliever (1 Tim.5:8).
In many cases, the wife in a home (because she is not the wage-earner) may spend money lavishly, because she does not have any idea about the family's finances. In such cases, husbands must be taught to explain the family's financial state to their wives and to say "No" to any expenditure that they cannot afford. As elders, we must embolden all husbands to say "No" to their wives like that, so that they can have some savings for their families.
Such savings can be made in EVERY home - if the family is serious about practising financial discipline and cutting down their expenditure each month. It is our duty as elders to encourage every husband to do this.
As we approach the end of time, believers will have to be more and more careful in spending money. We do not trust in "uncertain riches". Our trust is in our heavenly Father alone (1 Tim.6:17). But believers must be taught that the promise that "God will supply all our need" (Phil.4:19), can be fulfilled only if we have obeyed God's Word and learnt from the ant (as above), and earnestly sought God's kingdom first - not otherwise (Matt.6:33).
In my 59 years as a believer (including 50 years of married life) my wife and I have never borrowed even one rupee, or been in debt for even a single day, to anyone - even at times when we were very poor as a family. We practised strict financial discipline in our home, in obedience to God's Word. We never bought anything we could not afford - not even new clothes, for our children, when the old ones or the " hand-me-downs" could still be used. The result has been that God has blessed us and our children spiritually today. This has also helped us to teach financial discipline to others. I have sought to obey Romans 13:8 strictly and to live according to Matthew 6:33 in my home - and God has not only provided all our earthly needs but also given me amazing spiritual riches. So I can boldly say to every believer now, "Follow me - in this area of living within one's income and being free from debt, as commanded in God's Word".
It is all a question of what we value - the standards of God's Word or the standards of worldly Christians around us. It is an absolute shame for a child of God to remain in debt, in direct disobedience to God's Word, and thus give room to Satan to accuse him before God, day and night (Rev.12:10).
If you are an elder and you have a large debt and you are not making every effort to clear your debt every month, then you should step down from your eldership and stop preaching immediately, and start clearing your debt - because long-standing debt is a very bad testimony for any believer - and especially for an elder.
Wisdom in Giving and Lending
Believers must be told never to lend large amounts of money to anyone without first consulting their elders. Otherwise relationships can be ruined in a church.
What about Jesus' command to " give to everyone who asks of you…..and to lend, expecting nothing in return " (Luke 6:30)?
When trying to understand any verse in Scripture, we must compare Scripture with Scripture. Otherwise we can get a wrong understanding of a verse. When Satan tempted Jesus to jump off the top of the temple, he quoted a verse to Jesus, saying "It is written". But Jesus rejected the suggestion, saying, "It is also written…." (Matt.4:6, 7). So, the whole truth of Scripture is not found in " It is written" alone, but in "It is written" and "It is also written".
So when we read in Luke 6:30 that it is written, "G ive to everyone who asks of you…..and lend, expecting nothing in return ", we must see that it is also written in 1 Corinthians 10:26 that "everything on the earth belongs to the Lord". So we must first recognize that all our money, property and our savings belong to the Lord. So before we obey the verse to give to everyone who asks for money from us, we must first ask permission to do that from the Owner of our money - the Lord. And when we seek the Lord like that, He may tell us at times, to give some money to some people; and at other times, He may tell us not to give any money to some others - depending on what He sees in the hearts of the people asking us for money. Thus the Lord will protect us from deceivers.
If believers are not careful and wise in such matters, they can become foolishly liberal with their money! All believers must be told to consult their elders before lending money to anyone - especially if the amount is large. It is not only because they may not get their money back from the borrower. The greater danger is that the church can be corrupted by people joining it, who are not interested in discipleship but only in getting gifts from generous believers!
Such problems with money arise usually among those churches that preach only "love and goodness" and not "discipleship". If the strict standards of discipleship that Jesus taught are proclaimed regularly and if you (as an elder) have no interest in gaining any honour for the "numerical growth" of your church, and if you are truly interested in building a godly family in your church, then you will be protected from such deceivers.
In our churches, we have followed the practice of giving money to help a poor person only after he has proven himself to be interested in becoming a disciple for at least two years.
Righteous and Faithful with Money
After being righteous in money matters (the first step), we must go on to the next step of being faithful in money matters. We may be righteous in money matters - not cheating, not stealing and not being in debt. But we may still notbe faithful in the use of money.
To be unfaithfulwith money is to spend our money lavishly on ourselves, and also to spend church-money lavishly. In many churches and Christian organizations, the leaders spend church-money quite lavishly - and expect God's people to keep on giving - more and more.
There are many poor brothers in our churches who work hard to earn their money. They cannot afford many luxuries in their own homes. We must not spend the money they give to the church in a lavish way - even for the church's expenses. Our motives may be good. But Martha also had a good motive in the work she did for the Lord and His people in Luke 10:38-42. Yet the Lord rebuked her for her work. It is good for us therefore to sit as Mary did, at Jesus' feet and to listen to His corrections and His rebukes.
Jesus is our Example and our Forerunner. He received a lot of money as gifts from God's people. But He was careful, frugal and faithful in spending it. The way He spent money is revealed in His words in John 13:29: "Buy only what you really need. And always think of the poor and give them something" (paraphrase). That is a good guideline to follow in all of our expenditure - both at home and in the church.
You will lose the anointing of the Spirit if you are careless and wasteful with money. Jesus said, "If you are not faithful with money, who will give you the true riches?" (Luke 16:11). Many elders who could have set their churches on fire for God have no anointing because of their failure here.
To be faithful with money is to be frugal and wise in the way we spend it - both at home and in the church.
Helping the Poor
Churches must be built as one family - without any distinction of language or community or race - because we are to demonstrate the reality of the Body of Christ - in which there is no distinction between people of different languages, cultures or communities.
It is our responsibility as elders, to find out who are poor and needy among the members of our church-family - and to help them.
In the early church, when the believers wanted to give money to help the poor believers, they gave the money to their leaders - the apostles. They had the humility to acknowledge that their leaders knew the need among the believers better than they did (Acts 4:34, 35). This is always the best way for believers to help the poor - give the money to the elders and let the elders distribute it fairly, to the needy.
If however believers give money to the poor on their own, there is every likelihood that those poor who subtly advertise their need will get plenty while others who are really needy may get nothing.
Money given for God's work must be used wisely by the elders, according to the need. If money is being sent to a poor church, it must be sent only to well-established churches that are run by plural elders and whose accounts are properly maintained. Elders must verify, even after giving money to such a church for a project, whether the money was spent wisely.
I am not saying that we should not help unbelievers. But our responsibility is primarily to our own church-family. For example: If you give your money to help the beggars in your town, that is a good work indeed. But if as a result, your own children are starving, then your good work becomes a foolish work. But we would never do such a foolish thing with our own money. We must not do such foolishness with God's money either.
The Bible says that "if anyone does not provide for his own family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever" (1 Tim.5:8). "So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, but especially to those who are of the household of the faith " (Gal.6:10).
A Father Can Ask His Own Children
Paul urged the Corinthian Christians to take a collection and to send the money to the poor saints in Jerusalem who were needy (2 Cor.8, 9 and 1 Cor.16:2). But notice that he asked only those who were his own spiritual children to do so - the Christians at Corinth. He never asked the Christians at Rome or Colossae to send money to the poor believers elsewhere, because he did not plant those churches - and so he had no authority over them. A spiritual father can ask his own children to give money to poor believers, but he cannot ask the children of others to do so.
If you follow these principles, you will be safe. We must preserve these spiritual values, if we are to escape the financial pit that all Babylonian churches have fallen into.
We firmly believe that " those who seek God's kingdom and His righteousness first will find all their earthly needs being provided by their heavenly Father " (Matt.6:33). We also believe that God will always give us enough finances for His work, if we do His work according to new-covenant principles.
Paul's Attitude to Money
Consider the example of the apostle Paul in relation to money, in the following verses:
1 Corinthians 9:11 to 19 : "If I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for I am under compulsion….. What then is my reward? That, when I preach the gospel, I may offer the gospel without charge , so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel. For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, so that I may win more ."
Notice here, that one way of becoming a servant of all men, in order to win them, is by preaching the gospel to them "freely - without charge".
2 Corinthians 11:7 to 12 (NASB and Living): "Did I commit a sin in humbling myself so that you might be exalted, because I preached the gospel of God to you without charge ?.......When I was present with you and was in need, I was not a burden to anyone…….in everything I kept myself from being a burden to you, and will continue to do so. As the truth of Christ is in me, this boasting of mine will not be stopped in the regions of Achaia. Why?..... I will do it to cut out the ground from under the feet of those who boast that they are doing God's work in just the same way we are."
Notice what Paul says here that one way by which we can humble ourselves and serve the believers in our church is by preaching the gospel to them "without charge".
Acts 20:33-35 : "I have coveted no one's silver or gold or clothes. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my own needs and to the men who were with me. In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'"
2 Thessalonians 3:7-9 : "You yourselves know how you ought to follow our example, because we did not eat anyone's bread without paying for it, but with labour and hardship we kept working night and day so that we would not be a burden to any of you; not because we do not have the right to this, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you, so that you would follow our example."
Very, very few preachers follow Paul's example (as written in these portions of Scripture). But our calling is to follow his example and be different from the Babylonian preachers in today's Christendom.
When Paul was old and could not work any longer, God provided for his needs in an amazing way.
When Paul was imprisoned in Jerusalem, some Jews took a vow to kill him (Acts 23:12-15). But in the sovereignty of God, Paul's sister's son heard of it and came to the prison and told Paul (Acts 23:16). Thus Paul's life was saved. He was then taken to Caesarea to appear before the governor Felix. Felix expected Paul to give him a bribe if he was to set him free, but Paul never gave it (Acts 24:26). The bribe that any governor expected would obviously be a huge amount. How did Felix know that a poor preacher like Paul would have so much money with him?
We can guess!
Paul was from a very rich Jewish business family in Tarsus. They must have withheld his inheritance from him when he became a Christian. But when they heard that Paul had been imprisoned, they must have felt sorry for him and sent him his large inheritance through his sister's son. Thus Paul got enough money to take care of all his needs for the rest of his life. Felix must have heard about this. Later, when Paul went to Rome (the most expensive city in the world in those days), he rented a house and stayed there for two years (Acts 28:30, 31). This is yet another indication that Paul had come into a large amount of money by then.
Paul had been faithful to honour God in the financial area for many decades. Now God honoured Paul by providing for his needs through his family inheritance, when Paul could no longer work and support himself. God always honours those who honour Him. What an encouragement it is for us to know this!
All elders should seek to honour God like Paul did - and to have this testimony that Paul had at the end of his life:"I never wronged anyone, I never corrupted any one, I never took advantage of anyone.
All believers are not called to be prophets. But all believers are commanded to eagerly desire to prophesy ( 1 Cor.14:1). This is one of the results of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the new-covenant age (Acts 2:17,18).
To prophesy (in its meaning in the new covenant) is to speak to people to encourage them, challenge them and build them up (1 Cor.14:3). All Spirit-filled believers can prophesy in the church meetings briefly (1 Cor.14:31). The other believers must judge what was spoken, and discern how much of it was from God and how much of it was human - testing everything with Scripture (1 Cor.14:29).
God has also appointed some as prophets in the church. These are men whom God has given as gifts to the church to build up the Body of Christ. Prophets will speak long messages to challenge and strengthen believers. We read that "Judas and Silas, being prophets, encouraged and strengthened the brethren with a lengthy message" (Acts 15:32). But very few believers are called to be prophets in the church (1 Cor.12:28; Eph.4:11) - and everyone must remember that.
Listening to someone who prophesies in a church-meeting is like eating a plantain. We must throw away the skin (what is human) and eat only what is inside the skin (that which is from God). In a young believer the skin will be very thick and there will be very little within it that is from God. But we are happy to take even that little. In a more mature believer however, the skin will be thinner and there will be much that is from God.
Sisters too can prophesy (Acts 2:17, 18). But we do not see any female prophetesses, after the new covenant was inaugurated on the day of Pentecost. There are no female apostles either.
We read in Acts 21:9 about Philip's four daughters who prophesied. But they were not prophetesses (The King James Version and the Amplified Version of the Bible make the translation of the original Greek word here, very clear). We see this very clearly later - when God wanted to give a prophetic message to Paul in Philip's house, He did not use any of Philip's four daughters to give it. Instead, he brought the prophet Agabus from far away, to give His message to Paul (See Acts 21:10, 11).
Any woman who tries to be a prophetess today will invariably become a Jezebel - a false prophetess - who will finally destroy any local church (Rev.2:20-26; 1 Kings 19:1, 2). If any sister gets offended with this statement, I would encourage her to humble herself and study the New Testament carefully and see that the Lord never appointed a single female prophetess in the new covenant . God's work must be done in God's way and not according to anyone's whims and fancies!
Anyone who prophesies should do so only according to the proportion of his faith (Rom.12:6). That was why, Paul feared to use the words "Thus says the Lord" when prophesying. He would rather say, "I think I have the Spirit of God" (1 Cor.7:40). We must never use the words "Thus says the Lord", when we prophesy, unless we are quoting some verse from Scripture. Jeremiah warns us against using such words (Jer.23:21). Also, whenever we prophesy, we must allow the other believers to discern and decide whether our message is from the Lord or not.
Beware Of Directive Prophecy
We must also bear in mind that no new-covenant prophet ever gave directions to others as to what they should do in a particular situation (as the old-covenant prophets did). In Acts 11:28, we see that Agabus predicted a famine that was about to come, but he never said a word as to what anyone should do about it. In the same way, in Acts 21:11, he told Paul that he would be taken captive if he went to Jerusalem, but he did not tell Paul whether to go or not.
The reason for this is that every believer now has the Holy Spirit - and the Spirit is the One Who is to tell each believer what he is to do. Under the old covenant however, people did not have the indwelling Spirit to guide them. And so the prophet who had the Spirit had to tell them what the Lord wanted them to do.
But in spite of these warnings, there are many immature believers who act like old covenant prophets and tell believers even today what they should do. There were some arrogant, immature believers like that in Tyre who "prophesied" even to the apostle Paul, "from their own spirit" and told him "not to go to Jerusalem" (Acts 21:4). But Paul quite rightly ignored their directions and went (Acts 21:13). Later, the Lord confirmed to Paul that it was indeed His will that he should go to Jerusalem (Acts 23:11). So those believers at Tyre were totally wrong in their so-called "prophecy". It did not come from the Lord. We must warn believers in our churches never to listen to any "directive prophecy" (so-called) that tells him what to do or what not to do - lest they be deceived.
The main purpose of new-covenant prophecy is (1) to save God's people from their sins and (2) to build the church. This is what we must proclaim in all the meetings of our churches - because Jesus came for these two purposes: (1) to save His people from all sin (the first promise in the New Testament - Matt.1:21); and (2) to build His church (Matt.16:18).
On the other hand, if you preach more about exercising the gifts of the Spirit than about freedom from sin and building relationships in the Body of Christ, then your church will soon become like the church in Corinth - exercising all the gifts of the Spirit (1 Cor.1:7), but carnal and immature and full of infighting. And your church may even end up like the Laodicean church - wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked, and not even knowing it (Rev.3:17). That would be a calamity.
If you want to build a new-covenant church, then the emphasis in your preaching must always be the same as it was in the teachings of Jesus and of the apostles - and not what we hear in most Christian churches today.
Sermon Makers or the Lord's Messengers?
If you listen to the Lord regularly, you will at times hear Him rebuking you and correcting you. Habakkuk's example is a good one to follow. He said, " I stand on my guard-post. I keep watch to see what the Lord will speak to me, and how I may reply when I am reproved " (Hab.2:1)?
Paul said that he proclaimed Christ, " admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom", in such a way as to finally " present every man complete (perfect) in Christ". To achieve this, he laboured " striving according to Christ's power which mightily worked within him " (Col.1:28, 29).
Paul could present others perfect and complete, only as He allowed the Lord to work mightily within him first, breaking down his self-confidence and his soulish strength. This is what the Lord seeks to do in each of us too. Through the Spirit's power, the Lord equipped Paul to serve Him effectively. God wants to equip us also with the same power so that we too can serve Him effectively.
We are called to be the Lord's anointed messengers to the church and not impressive sermon-makers. Those elders for whom preaching is something that they do to impress people, will only build Babylon - for those who preach for man's honour are just as bad as those who preach for money.
Paul said, "We speak as messengers from God, trusted by Him to tell the truth. We don't change His message one bit to suit the taste of those who hear it, because we serve God alone, who examines our hearts' deepest thoughts. Never once did we try to win you with flattery, as you very well know, and God knows we were not just pretending to be your friends so that you would give us money" (1 Thes.2:4, 5 - Living).
What an example for all of us elders to follow!
Recognizing Different Ministries in the Body of Christ
When Paul and Barnabas ministered in Paphos, we see a sharp contrast in the way each of them ministered (See Acts 13:7-10). Paul, " filled with the Holy Spirit", rebuked Elymas the magician sharply. But Barnabas, who was also " a good man full of the Holy Spirit and faith" (Acts 11:24), never rebuked people like that. God had given Barnabas a different ministry. Recognizing this, Paul never asked Barnabas to speak as he did. Barnabas recognized the grace given to Paul and so he did not stop Paul from speaking the way Paul did.
The Holy Spirit does not ask every preacher to rebuke people as Paul did, or as Stephen did (in Acts 7:51, 52) - because some are called to minister like Barnabas. But you must allow those who have Paul's type of ministry to fulfil their ministry - and not expect them to speak as you do.
God does not have the same ministry for everyone in the Body of Christ - just as in our human body. The throat gently swallows the food it receives. But the stomach vigorously throws acids on the same food. The throat may not understand why the stomach throws acids on to the food, but it does not stop the stomach from doing its job. God Himself has determined the stomach's "ministry", so that the food is well digested and not vomited out. In Christ's Body too, all the ministries, though different, are equally valuable. Paul can't do what Barnabas can do and Barnabas can't do what Paul can do. So each of us must allow the other to do whatever God has called each one to do.
If someone is violating some Scripture however, then we must speak to him about it privately first, and show him his error from the Scriptures. But we must not judge others by the ministry that God has given us.
All of us have different ministries in the body of Christ. But our tendency often is to think of our own ministry as the most important. God's Word however, exhorts us "with humility of mind to regard one another as more important than ourselves" (Phil.2:3).
Test the Spirits
We are warned in the Scriptures: " Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world " (1 John 4:1). All so-called "prophecies" must be judged and never accepted blindly (See 1 Cor.14:29). " Test every prophecy carefully - and hold fast only to that which is good " (1 Thess.5:21).
Under the old covenant, God warned His people about false prophets thus: " You may say in your heart, 'How will we know the word which the Lord has not spoken?' When a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the Lord has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him" (Deut.18:21, 22).
The way to escape deception is first of all byloving the truth about ourselves (2 Thess. 2:10, 11) and judging ourselves - especially in the areas of the love of money, sexual purity and honour-seeking. All who do not battle these sins will be deceived. And that can happen to any elder, despite all his Bible-knowledge.
"Let him who thinks he stands be careful that he does not fall" (1 Cor.10:12).
Remember that 'deception' is the main thing that Jesus and Paul said would characterize the last days (Matt.24:4, 5, 11, 23-25; 1 Tim.4:1, 2; 2 Thes.2:9-11). We must live in a constant self-judgment if we are to escape being deceived and experience a full salvation. Even " the righteous will be saved only with great difficulty" (1 Pet.4:17, 18). We must be "men of violence" against all sinful thought-patterns, if we are to possess God's kingdom and lead others into it and build the church (Matt.11:12).
Beware of False Prophets
One of the identifying marks of a false prophet that the early apostles taught was this: "Whoever asks you for money is a false prophet. You must not listen to him." (From the book "The Didache - The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles" . This book was written in the first century A.D. and is one of the earliest Christian books written). By this standard, we can see clearly that false prophets are abounding in Christendom today.
Christian Television programs with "so-called healing meetings" (which are more like magic-shows) are having a wide influence around the world nowadays. We know nothing about the private lives of most of these preachers. We don't know anything about their home-life, whether they are divorced, and whether they are part of any local church. But we can see clearly from their attitude to money and the methods they adopt in their public ministry that they are not servants of Christ.
A preacher must never be evaluated by his popularity, or his showmanship, or his "apparent" results. I say "apparent results", because many results that look impressive today will be evaluated by God as "wood, hay and straw" in the final day.
Jesus said that many preachers who exercised even genuine miraculous powers in His Name would be cast out by Him in the final day as people who " lived in sin" (Matt.7:22,23). How much more severely will He then judge those who deceive people with fake "miracles".
It is good to evaluate every preacher by the following tests:
1. Do his methods agree withthe methods adopted by our Lord Jesus Christ in his ministry and with the principles laid down in the New Testament - especially in the area of money?
2. Does the preacher move us only emotionally through his preaching or does he convince our mind from the Word of God and thus stir us to obedience to Christ's commandments? We must distinguish between the anointing of the Holy Spirit and human eloquence (which even politicians and secular TV hosts have).
3. Does the preaching entertain us and make us laugh, or does it convict us of sin and bring us to repentance?
4. Does the preaching make us admire the preacher or does it draw us closer to Christ?
You may discover (even with a small check-list like this) that you have evaluated many preachers by faulty criteria - and, as a result, suffered loss both in your spiritual life as well as financially (by giving money to those crooked preachers)! So be careful that you don't lose any more of your money in the future.
Many preachers take offerings in the Lord's Name. But this is taking the Lord's Name in vain and misrepresenting the Lord Jesus, because He Himself never asked anyone for money at any time, when He was on earth. So how can anyone ask for money in His Name? The Lord has not changed His mind about money after going to heaven. This is just one more way in which preachers deceive simple-minded believers who have not read the New Testament carefully.
Many so-called "healing evangelists" nowadays preach (in public meetings, over television and in magazine articles) that God can do anything - open blind eyes, make the lame walk, heal cancer, and even raise the dead - and then ask their listeners to "exercise faith to claim these miracles". After saying all that, they then beg and urge their listeners to send them large amounts of money!So, according to these preachers, the only thing that Almighty God cannot do is give them money for doing His work! Do you see the ridiculousness of that? They insult the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ by such begging for money. And almost all of these who beg for money like this claim to be "baptized in the Spirit and speaking in tongues"! It is obvious that they were deceived by some evil spirit who came to them as an angel of light and gave them some counterfeit experience (2 Cor.11:13-15). But millions of believers do not see this deception and foolishly send them their money.
Preachers are also deceiving believers by doing many strange things (such as pushing people down and making them laugh uncontrollably) and saying that these are all manifestations of the Holy Spirit. If you want to avoid being deceived by such preachers, test everything by this fourfold test:
1. Did Jesus do that?
2. Did Jesus teach that?
3. Did the apostles do that?
4. Did the apostles teach that?
If the preacher's actions fail on all of these four tests, then he and his actions must be rejected as counterfeit - however famous or popular he may be.
Preachers who Exploit the Poor
The one thing that I react very strongly against is the very thing that Jesus also reacted strongly against. Jesus used a whip when He saw people claiming to serve God and taking money from poor people in God's Name (John 2:14-17).
When preachers threaten ignorant believers with God's judgment if they don't give money for God's work, it depicts the Lord Jesus as a money-grabber. That makes a holy anger burn within me for the way they dishonour the Lord thereby - and that is why I have preached so strongly against this evil for more than 40 years.
Malachi 3:8, 9 is one of the most misquoted and misunderstood verses in the Bible. There God says, "Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing Me! But you say, `How have we robbed You?' In tithes and offerings. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing Me, the whole nation of you!" But that verse was for the people of Israel who were under the old covenant. Israel was a country under the government of God as their Head; and they had to pay an income-tax of 10% (called the tithe) to support the government workers (the Levites). And, as in all countries, those who don't pay the income-tax are punished.
But that has no application for us who are under the new covenant. The old covenant was abolished on the day of Pentecost. The church isa family with God as our Father. And no father ever demands income-tax from his child! The word for us, God's children, is found in 2 Corinthians 9:7: "Each one must give just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver " .
It is a shameful thing that so many preachers depict our Lord as One Who wants people's money - and especially so, in a non-Christian country like India.
Such things not only make me angry, they also make me weep, because of the dishonour it brings to the Lord's Name.
Paul said, "Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us. For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, who set their minds on earthly things (on money)" (Phil.3:17-19).
Paul preached so strongly against sin and this money-grabbing attitude that, many like Demas left him. In Paul's last letter he says, "All the Christians from Asia have deserted me; even Phygellus and Hermogenes are gone". But a few stood with him till the end. "May the Lord bless Onesiphorus and his family because he was never ashamed of me". And Paul urges Timothy, "Hold tightly to the pattern of truth I taught you" (2 Tim.1:13-16).
There were "peddlers (cheap street-sellers) of the word of God" in the first century too (2 Cor.2:17).
God and Wealth (Mammon) are still the two masters that seek to rule man (as Jesus said). If you don't let God rule you totally, Money will rule you - and then you will be deceived by deceivers and money-loving preachers.
Seek to be totally free from "the love of money" if you want to avoid being deceived in these last days.
Follow the New Testament, and make the principles by which our Lord Jesus lived and ministered, as your guideline and then you will never go wrong.
Deception in These Last Days
2 Thessalonians Chapter 2 warns us about the last days, when the Antichrist "will exalt himself and display himself as God….doing signs and false wonders" (verses 4, 9). That "spirit of the antichrist" can be found even in Christendom today (See 1 John 2:18-20). It is found in preachers who exalt themselves and who act like God towards their flock - by seeking to control them, through "fake prophecies", by showing "fake signs and wonders", by attaching them to themselves, by demanding their offerings (like the sons of Eli did - 1 Sam.2:12-17), and in numerous other ways.
Verses 10 and 11 of the above chapter (2 Thes.2) warn us that God Himself will deceive some people. These verses teach that we can be saved from being deceived if we " love the truth and want to be saved", that is:
(1) if we love the truth about our own sin, selfishness and pride that God shows us;
(2) if we love the truths that God shows us in His Word; and
(3) if we are eager "to be saved from all sin" (for example, from sins such as selfishness, pride, sexual impurity, anger and the love of money)".
God is testing all believers in these days through the many so-called " Christian" ministries that are in the world. Each believer will be drawn to the ministries that satisfy his deepest longings. Those who hunger and thirst for a godly life will be drawn to the ministries that proclaim that.
But the Lord has permitted many false ministries also to flourish - "the health-wealth gospel", "fake tongue-speaking", "slaying in the spirit", "fake signs and wonders", "fake prophetic ministries", "repetitive emotional praise falsely called 'worship'", "psychology-based preaching that comforts people in their sin", "Christian(!) rock-music", "evangelism-without-discipling", etc. God has allowed these to flourish in these last days, in order to test His children. Many believers will fail the test, because they do not seek for godliness primarily.
The true worshippers of God however, will escape all this deception, as they look at Jesus as their Example, and walk the way of discipleship. Such believers will be quick to acknowledge sin in themselves, and will always bow to the authority of Scripture (over all of men's traditions and also over their own clever reasoning) - and therefore, will neverbe deceived.
"When you preach, preach as though God himself were speaking through you" (1 Pet.4:11).
We must live in the presence of the Lord if we are to preach God's Word effectively to others. This was how the Lord prepared Isaiah, Ezekiel and John to preach His word.
- In Isaiah 6:1, Isaiah saw the glory of God - and then God gave him a message for the people (Isa.6:9).
- In Ezekiel 1:26, Ezekiel saw the glory of God - and then God gave him a message for the people (Ezek.2:3).
- In Revelation 1:17, the apostle John saw the glory of Jesus - and then the Lord told him to write His messages to the seven churches (Rev.1:19).
If we live under the anointing of the Spirit at all times, we will live in the presence of the Lord always. The anointing of the Spirit will also enable us to teach God's Word in a balanced, prophetic way that bothchallenges and encourages God's people and thus builds them up (1 Cor.14:3).
Our strong words of challenge and rebuke in one message must always be balanced with words of comfort and encouragement in another message.
Faithfulness with Money and in Speech
Preaching must not only be anointed. It must be based on revelation from the Holy Spirit. Our calling when we preach is to share the riches of God's Word with others. But how are we to get those riches from God?
Studying God's Word is important. But much more is required than that. Jesus said that "the scribe (who studies God's Word) must become a disciple (who lives in obedience to God's Word) before he can bring forth fresh as well as old revelations from the treasure-house of God's Word" (Matt.13:52 - Message Paraphrase).
Two primary areas where a person must be faithful to be an effective preacher of God's Word are in the way he uses his money and his tongue.
Our money : Jesus said, "If you have not been faithful in the use of unrighteous wealth, who will entrust the true riches to you?" (Luke 16:11). The true riches are likeness to Christ, the anointing of the Holy Spirit and revelation on the words of God in Scripture. We can get those riches only if we are faithful in the use of money in our personal lives. Failure here is the main reason for the lack of revelation-preaching in Christendom today. Most preachers are unfaithful with money. Many may be righteous with money but they are not faithful in the use of it. We have already dealt with this area extensively. So we don't need to say much more about that here.
Our speech : Faithfulness in our speech is the next thing that determines whether God can speak through us or not. The Lord told Jeremiah, "If you extract the precious from the worthless, (in your conversation) you will become My mouth" (Jer.15:19). If we remove all worthless speech from our daily conversation at home and elsewhere, and speak only what is worthwhile and valuable, then God will be with us, when we speak His Word. In fact, God says, we will then " become His mouth". What an honour that is!
You can't expect God to use your tongue when you preach, if the rest of the time you allow the devil to use your tongue. Many people have destroyed their ministry by the careless use of their tongue.
The Bible says, "Death and life are in the power of the tongue" and "a wise tongue is a tree of life" (Prov.18:21; 15:4). So, either life can come forth from your tongue, or you can kill people (spiritually) with it.
There are two fires related to the tongue, mentioned in the New Testament. One is the "tongue of fire" that sat on the disciples' heads when they were baptized in the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:3). The other is the " tongue set on fire by hell" (James 3:6). We have to choose which fire we want.
To control our tongue, we must first control our heart. Jesus said "The mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. The good man brings out of his good treasure, what is good; and the evil man brings out of his evil treasure, what is evil" (Matt.12:34, 35). So what we need to control first is our heart. The dirty water coming out of the tap is because the tank from which the water is coming is dirty. So the tank has to be cleaned first. Then clean water alone will come through the tap.
We always speak from the thoughts that fill our heart. So if you meditate much on God's Word, those thoughts will automatically come forth from you. But if your heart is filled with irritation against people then that is what will come forth.
We should never speak (or write) if we sense a disturbance in our hearts. "Let the peace of Christ be the referee in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body" (Col.3:15 - NASB margin). When we lose our peace, it is the referee blowing the whistle, indicating that a foul has been committed somewhere. Then we must set the foul right before proceeding further.
Psalm 12:6 says, "The words of the Lord are pure words, as silver tried in a furnace, refined seven times". So whenever any disturbing thoughts cross your mind, take those thoughts to the Lord - again and again, seven times. His furnace will remove all human irritation and anger. Then what you speak will be the purified words that God wants you to speak - even if they are words of rebuke. Then God will support your ministry. You should do the same when writing an email or a letter to correct someone.
On Sharing God's Word
Simple and Clear
We must take great pains to study God's Word in depth, comparing Scripture with Scripture and asking God for revelation on His Word and then ask Him to give us clarity of thought as we seek for His message and freedom of utterance as we preach that message to others.
Simplicity and clarity should characterise everything that we share with God's people. We should avoid the temptation to preach on lofty themes to impress others. What we speak from our heads will reach only theheads (minds) of others. But what we speak from our hearts in simple, ordinary words will reach the hearts of others.
It is good to write down some of the things that God speaks to us. Twelve times in the book of Revelation, we read that God told John to write down what He spoke to him (Rev.1:11,19; 2:1,8,12,18; 3:1,7,14; 14:13; 19:9; 21:5). Otherwise John might have forgotten what God had told Him. Since God may speak to us at different times during the day, it is a good practice to carry a little notebook and a pen with us always, so that we can write down immediately what the Lord puts into our mind, before we forget it. Or if you have a mobile-phone, you can write it down in its notes-app.
Focused and Anointed
Beware of the tendency to drift aimlessly when preaching God's Word, and of repeating a matter monotonously. This cannot be called sin, but it certainly wastes people's time and brings boredom into a meeting. If you write down beforehand the main points of what you are burdened to share, your message will not only be briefer, but also easier to listen to - and therefore more effective. Some brothers have the ability to speak effectively without writing down any points, because they have a good memory. But others should die to seeking their own honour in this matter, and use notes - so that they don't waste people's time.
Paul's preaching " was very plain, not with a lot of oratory and human wisdom; but the Holy Spirit's power was in his words " (1 Cor.2:4 - Living). It should be our longing to preach God's Word always in such a way that God " does not allow our words to fall to the ground" (1 Sam.3:19), but always makes them go home to people's hearts with conviction from the Holy Spirit. As Jesus said, " When the Helper comes, the Spirit of truth,He will testify about Me, and you will testify also" (John 15:26, 27). In other words, the Holy Spirit will back up what we preach. We must seek God therefore for a rich anointing of His Spirit continuously, so that we can preach God's Word effectively.
Sound and Hygienic
We are living in the times that Paul warned about in his last letter: "The time will come when people will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth" (2 Tim.4:3,4).
So he urges us to "preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction" (2 Tim.4:2).
The phrase 'sound doctrine' in verse 3 means " hygienic, healthy doctrine". Just like a good hospital keeps its floor always clean and hygienic with antiseptic solutions, so that even the smallest germs are removed, we also must ensure that what we preach leads people to be free from even the smallest of sins.
Interesting and Understandable
Our messages should also be interesting. We should not blame people if they leave our church because they are bored listening to us or because we scold them most of the time in our preaching.
In Ecclesiastes 12:9-11(Living), we read, "The Preacher was wise. He went on teaching the people all he knew. He collected proverbs and classified them. For the Preacher was not only a wise man but a good teacher; he not only taught what he knew to the people, but taught them in an interesting manner. The wise man's words are like goads that spur to action. They nail down important truths."
There are a number of lessons to be learnt from the above verse. Read the verse slowly and meditate on each phrase. Our messages must be presented in an interesting manner. They must also spur people to action when they hear us. For that we must prepare our thoughts and arrange them. Just like a good housewife, after cooking a tasty meal, arranges the food in an attractive way on the dining table, we too, after having got the message from God clearly in our mind, must arrange it in an interesting and easy-to-understand way. This will take time and effort - and we must be willing to invest that time to make our message attractive. This is how Jesus preached.
Imitating the Master-Preacher
Here is an article on the way Jesus preached:
Jesus' way of preaching must be what we must press on to attain to - even if it takes us many years to get there.
Don't imitate the mannerisms and gimmicks of Western preachers, as many Indian preachers are doing nowadays. Make Jesus alone your Example as a Preacher.
What the Blood of Christ Does for Us
Many believers live under constant condemnation and discouragement because of their past sinful lives. They never seem to break free from this bondage or to overcome Satan's accusations. As the Lord's servants, we must help them to be free.
Here is a message I gave on the blood of Christ and what it does - for the benefit of such believers:
You can listen to it and share those truths with others - and thus set those people free who are living under condemnation.
There have always been believers who have taken advantage of God's free forgiveness, and who continue to live in sin, treating the blood of Christ like cheap tap-water (Heb.10:26-29). But that should not stop us from proclaiming this message of justification by the blood of Christ to sincere believers who are living under unnecessary condemnation (Rom.5:9).
PILGRIM'S PROGRESS is a book that John Bunyan wrote 350 years ago, and that has been a blessing to many of God's children for many centuries. It can help you understand how to be a better disciple of Jesus.
Here is a message that I gave, with practical teaching and illustrations, based on that book:
You will be encouraged by watching it.
A Right Attitude in Preaching
Paul says in Romans 12:3, 6: "Through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith……If prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith".
A common fault among many who preach, is to speak longer than the "measure and proportion of their grace and faith", because they " think more highly of themselves than they ought to think ".
There is no warning in Scripture about "thinking less of ourselves than we ought to think" when preaching - because there is no such danger. Ask yourself, "Is there a greater possibility of your thinking less of yourself or more of yourself when you preach?" We know the answer. We are always in danger of thinking more highly of ourselves.
To have low thoughts about ourselves does not mean that we are insecure. No. We must always be secure in the love of God our Father. Our attitude t owards our heavenly Father must always be one of total confidence. Our attitude towards Satan must always be one of total resistance in Jesus' Name. And our attitude towards all human beings must always be one of total humility.
"Not what we do for God but what God does for us should be what we rejoice in" (Luke 10:20 - Message Paraphrase). We need to think less of who we are and of what we can do for God. We need to meditate more instead on who God is and what He has done and can do for us. Then we will have a sober estimate about ourselves, and we will have faith that what God has done for us, He will do for others as well.
That is the right attitude that everyone who preaches should have.
Paul says further in Romans 12:4-8:
Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us must exercise them accordingly:
He who teaches, in his teaching;
He who exhorts, in his exhortation………"
We see here that teaching and exhortation are two different gifts.
The ability to teach Scripture in an inspiring way is a spiritual gift that God gives to some. But there are very few such gifted teachers (James 3:1).
But the gift to exhort others is a gift that all brothers should seek for. But again it should be exercised only according to the measure of grace and faith that each person has.
It is important to wait on the Lord and hear what the Lord wants you to preach in the church-meetings. Otherwise you will waste the time of your listeners. Wasting people's time must be seen in the same light as stealing their money. If you see it in the same light, you will be more careful about the time you take in your preaching. Unless you are exceptionally gifted, you should limit your preaching to 20 minutes. (This is only a general guideline and not a hard and fast rule). Beyond that, most preachers tend to become repetitive, heavy and boring.
At the end of your message, your listeners should feel that they have met with the Lord (See 1 Cor.14:24, 25). That is how every church-meeting should end. But for that, we must pray more, study God's Word more diligently, and seek more earnestly for the anointing of the Holy Spirit and for the gift of prophecy.
Ministry of Encouragement and Not of Accusation
Your ministry must always be one of encouragement and not one of accusation.
Hebrews 3:13 is very clear: "Encourage one another day after day, so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin." This is the calling of every brother and sister - to share words of encouragement at every meeting.
You must never become an accuser when you preach - for then you will be holding hands with Satan the great Accuser. On the other hand, you should determine to encourage every member in your church, every time you speak.
Sin is deceitful. Your preaching must so encourage your hearers that they are saved from the deceitfulness of sin in their lives.
On the other hand, if you indulge in scolding and thus sending your hearers on a "guilt-trip" in your sermons, it will lead your flock to self-condemnation and to an unhealthy fear of you as their elder brother.
Here is an article of mine on guilt-trip preaching that you can read and be warned:
Remember that you are called to be a servant who washes the feet of your fellow-believers through your preaching. So allow the Holy Spirit to control your emotions, when you speak, so that you never become angry. Don't make yourself a self-appointed prophet!
3000 years ago in Israel, God removed Saul (whose headwas higher than that of others - 1 Sam. 10:23) because of his pride, and replaced him with David (whose heartwas better than that of others - Acts 13:22 and 1 Sam.13:14). Carnal believers appreciate head-ability (cleverness, knowledge and gift). But God appreciates heart-ability (humility, goodness and love).
Our heartshould be such that God can approve of us - even if our "head" is weak! It does not matter if we are not clever and if we don't have any preaching ability or even much Scriptural knowledge. The church is not built by those with head-knowledge but by those who have God's heart and who feel the way God feels about His people.
Called to Feed and Not to Beat
In Luke 12:42, the Lord says, "Who is the faithful and wise steward, whom his master will put in charge of his people, to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master finds so doing when he returns".
We must be faithful and wise servants as we prepare the messages that we preach to God's people. If important guests are coming to our house for a meal, we will always take time to prepare a good meal for them. If we give them a cheap, useless meal, it will be an insult to them. In the same way, if we are careless and unprepared in what we preach, we are insulting God's people. Let us honour the brothers and sisters by making every effort to give them the very best possible spiritual food every time we preach. This will take time and sacrifice, no doubt. But, " who is willing to be a faithful and wise steward" here? (Luke 12:42).
The Lord goes on to warn us (in Luke 12:45) of the danger of beating the brothers and sisters with the Word of God. Be careful that you don't keep on criticizing God's people for their failures. All correction must be done in love. Otherwise it is best not to correct at all. Children need the rod only occasionally. But they need nourishing food all the time. What would you think of a father or mother who beat their children more frequently than they gave them food? That would be foolish - and we must not be like that. But many preachers are like that.
It is easy for you as an elder to exercise power over others in a fleshly way and to be hard on people in your preaching. An anointed prophet may have grace to speak with the strictness of God and rebuke and correct others in his messages. But if you are not a prophet and you try to imitate a prophet, the strictness you manifest will be the strictness and the hardness of the flesh.
You can also be tempted to be hard on those whose views differ from yours. God will then be very hard on you: "With the kind, God shows Himself kind; but with the crooked, He shows Himself hostile. He saves the humble, but abases the proud" (Psa.18:25, 26).
Very few elders can manifest the strictness of God in a divine godly way. So it is best to seek for a ministry of encouragement, andnot one of rebuke and correction .
Leave the ministry of rebuke and correction to the anointed prophets, who can manifest God's strictness in a godly manner.
It is possible to maintain a high standard in a church without being hard on others. The same message preached in a hard, scolding manner can be said in a kinder and gentler way - and will produce better results.
No-one in the church should live in fear of us, or with the feeling that they have to obey us, in order to be accepted by us. As it is written, "No fear of me should terrify you, nor should my pressure weigh heavily on you" (Job 33:7)
We should not be cold towards those who disagree with us - for that is the technique of cult-leaders and politicians. On the contrary, we must be outstanding examples of humility and servanthood towards everyone. When God allows people to oppose us, it is to humble us, so that He can give us His grace.
Finally remember, that "only those who have compassion on God's people can lead them" (Isa.49:10-middle).
If you can lightly refer to the believers in your church as "foolish, half-hearted people", it would be an indication that you are unfit to be their elder. A godly elder will recognize his own weaknesses - and that will make him gentle with others. The closer we come to God, the more we will recognize our own weaknesses. The holier we become the gentler we will be with people.
Many elders have a wrong picture of Jesus. They see Him as one who has a whip in his hand all the time to whip people in God's house! But the real Jesus used the whip only on two days in 3½ years of public ministry. If however, you use a whip every Sunday, you are following "another Jesus". A leader must "deal gently with the misguided and the ignorant because he himself is beset with the same weaknesses" (Heb.5:2).
We read in numerous places in the gospels that Jesus looked with compassion at the people. "When Jesus looked out over the crowds, His heart broke , because they were confused and aimless, like sheep without any shepherd" (Matt.9:36 - Message Paraphrase) - and He is our Example. He invites us saying, "Learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart" (Matt.11:29). Gentleness and humility are the two qualities that most Christian leaders need the most - but have the least.
There is a beautiful story about Moses (not in the Bible, but in Jewish tradition) that says that when he was shepherding the flock of Jethro, he saw a little lamb that had gone some distance away to a stream to drink water. Moses ran and picked it up and said, "If I knew you were thirsty, I would have carried you over here". Immediately, a voice from heaven said, " Truly you are fit to shepherd Israel".
That may only be a fictional story. But I would like to believe it to be
true, for that is how the heart of God is. And whenever God sees a man
having such compassion for people who are weak and helpless and misguided,
He will say to him, "Truly you are fit to be an elder".
Prayer and the Ministry of God's Word
"We will devote ourselves to prayer (first) and (then) to the ministry of the word" (Acts 6:4).
Jesus prayed not only before He preached but also after He finished preaching - in order to give all the glory to His Father (See Luke 5:15, 16). We also must pray after we finish preaching - so that (1) we give God all the glory (as Jesus did); and (2) in our case, also to judge ourselves. I have sought to do these constantly, myself, so that I may press on to perfection in my preaching.
As elders, our primary responsibility is to build up God's people in our churches. To do this we need to have the supernatural power of God toprophesy effectively - and for this we need to pray earnestly.
Paul's burden for the churches was this: "We warn people and teach them. We want to present each one to God, perfect in Christ. And I can do it only because Christ's mighty power is at work within me. I wish you could know how much I have struggled in prayer for you" (Col.1:28-2:1 - Living)
Paul had an intense love for the Lord and for His people - and so he always had the right word for them.
We are living in the days of spiritual famine that God predicted through Amos: "'Behold, days are coming', declares the Lord God, 'when I will send a famine in the land, Not a famine for bread or a thirst for water, But rather a famine for hearing the words of the Lord. People will stagger from sea to sea and from the north even to the east; they will go to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, but they will not find it.'" (Amos 8:11, 12).
But that famine must not be found in our churches. Those who come to our churches must hear the word of the Lord preached powerfully every week. So seek God earnestly for the anointing of the Holy Spirit and for the gift of prophecy every time you preach (1 Cor.14:1).
You must also have a good knowledge of the Word - and this can come only if you diligently study God's Word daily. Paul told Timothy: " Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth (2 Tim.2:15).
Paul also told Timothy to "avoid worldly and empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness" (2 Tim.2:16). If you want to make prayer a priority in your life, you will have to eliminate the "worldly and empty chatter" that many believers waste time in, in their personal conversations and on social media like Facebook, etc. Let those who don't realize the urgency of this time, waste their time in such empty pursuits. But let us who are called by the Lord to build His church concentrate on the things that are essential - meditating on God's Word and waiting on the Lord in prayer.
" All things are lawful but all things are not profitable " (1 Cor.6:12). So eliminate some "good" things from your life so that you have time to concentrate on doing the "best" things.
Forget the Past and Press on
Each day we should " forget the things that are behind us and press on to the things that lie ahead " (Phil.3:13). That means that we must live each day as if we had never done anything for the Lord thus far; and we must live each day as if it were the very first day that we are going to do something for Him.
Each day, we must confess meaningfully that "Without Christ, I can do nothing" and "With Christ, I can do everything" (John 15:5 and Phil.4:13). "Nothing" means "nothing of eternal value"; and "everything" meaning " everything in the will of God for my life".
So, "be diligent to present yourself approved to God " (2 Tim.2:15)
The greatest danger that every leader faces is that of having only " a form of godliness" - and not being able to distinguish between when we are only religious and not spiritual. The mark of God's house is that we judge ourselves (1 Pet.4:17). And when we judge ourselves, we get light on ourselves very quickly. As elders, it is very easy to stop judging ourselves and then we stop getting light on ourselves, even if we are very zealous in other areas and preach powerfully.
"You have a name that you are alive but you are dead" (Rev.3:1) were words that the Lord spoke to an elder brother who thought that everything was all right with him, because he was praised by others.
Where a shepherd is unfaithful, the sheep suffer (See 2 Sam.24:17). God's judgment on unfaithful shepherds will be very severe in the final day. And that is why we all need to fear.
As a warning to everyone therefore, I want to mention some reasons for failures among leaders of churches.
Not Forsaking All in Secret
Some elders, although they may want to build Christ's body, are unwilling to pay the price for it. They are not willing to " give up everything that they have" in order to possess God's kingdom (Matt.13:44, 46). They want to build the church, but they also want to give up as little as possible. They love their jobs, good food, plenty of money and want a comfortable life on earth, just like all worldly people. At the same time they also want to have the honour of building the church. They want "to get the best of both worlds", as it were. God sees this in their hearts and so He brings confusion and failure into their work.
God has no partiality. He is not impressed by someone being linked in fellowship with a powerful church, or claiming to have a close link with some outstanding servant of the Lord. Knowledge, and zeal for the doctrine, and following the 'new-covenant pattern' in the meetings etc., also do not impress God.
What God looks for and rewards are radical discipleship and faithfulness in a person's hidden life. His rewards are always in exact proportion to the measure in which a leader is faithful. Unfaithfulness is also rewarded exactly. Everyone reaps exactly what he sows - and God cannot be fooled. Every leader who falls into the ground and dies will certainly bring forth much fruit. Our Lord Himself has guaranteed that (John 12:24). And by 'fruit' He didn't mean more people joining a church. He meant changed lives that have partaken of God's own nature, even if they be only a few in number.
God always looks for quality and not for numbers.
Not Righteous With Money
The failure of some leaders is caused by unrighteousness in money matters. We have dealt with this matter extensively in an earlier chapter. However, we need to be warned against it again, because there are many leaders who live as parasites, depending financially on their church-members. At the same time, they want the honour of being known as those who are building the body of Christ. This is a deception.
The love of money is a root of all sorts of evil. There must be no lowering of God's standards in this matter. While the apostles did accept gifts occasionally, they never kept on expecting to receive gifts from any church or individual.
Paul told Timothy: "Run away from the love of money and the desire to get rich. Instead, run after love and gentleness towards people" (1 Tim.6:9-11).
Riches and wealth are very dangerous things. We are safer when we are struggling financially. But when we become rich, we face a very great danger - because along with riches and wealth usually come pride and arrogance. So we have to be alert and watchful.
The way we end our Christian life in our attitude to money, is much more important than the way we began it. The Bible tells us: "Consider how godly people ended their lives and imitate their faith" (Heb.13:7 - paraphrase).
Not Morally Pure
Some elders fail through unfaithfulness in the sexual area. Anyone who does not know how to preserve himself in purity in relation to women is unfit to be a part of Christ's Body, leave alone to be an elder in it. To imagine that one can be a shepherd of others, when one does not have victory in the sexual area, is to deceive oneself thoroughly. Unfaithfulness in this area is always caused by carelessness in the thought-life, which is the result of a casual attitude towards sexual lust, which in turn is due to a lack of the fear of God. It is interesting to note that the first time the expression "the fear of God" is mentioned in the Bible is in relation to sexual sin (Gen.20:11). The Bible says that only "those with whom the Lord is displeased fall into adultery" (Prov.22:14 - NLT).
Anyone can fall a prey to sexual impurity, if he is not constantly fleeing from youthful lusts - in his thought-life. Those who are defeated in their thoughts and habits in this area, should not be high-minded, but must fear. Don't deceive others by giving them the impression, that you have victory, in this area, when you don't - for God will then publicly expose you one day.
Paul gave this exhortation to Timothy, who was his closest and most wholehearted co-worker: "Run away from anything that gives you the evil sexual thoughts that all men are tempted with. Instead, run after love and peace, in fellowship with those brothers who are also longing for purity of heart." (2 Tim.2:22-Message Paraphrase). Consider whether you, as an elder, have taken this command seriously.
Do you feel perhaps, that you don't need such exhortations because you are mature now, and have been serving the Lord for many years? Timothy had been serving the Lord for 25 years. But the apostle Paul still felt the need to warn him to be careful in the area of sex. We all need to be warned too.
If we listen to such warnings, it will result in our salvation. Then our churches also will grow in purity and we will always have a prophetic word for our flock. All failure of any sort calls for deep repentance and a judging of oneself. God loves honest people. We must be alert and careful in this area until the end of our lives.
Not Rooted In Humility
Pride in one's position as an elder is another factor that causes the downfall of some leaders. We have spoken about this in an earlier chapter, but it needs repeating. A leader who remains an ordinary brother in his own thinking will survive till the end, because God will always give grace to such a man.
But some get puffed up when they are appointed as elders. The moment an elder begins to think of himself as a special brother, he is doomed. Ordinary brothers will flourish spiritually unto the end of their lives. But those who consider themselves to be 'special' brothers will fall away easily.
You need to beware especially, if you are gifted with the Word and looked up to by your flock. Any believer who loves to be idolized by others is infected by the spirit of the antichrist, and is an easy target for Satan. Our calling is to be only servants. Therein lies our safety.
It is easy for God to bless you with every possible blessing of the Holy Spirit. It is difficult however for Him to keep you humble after He has blessed you thus. This is because the Lord cannot keep you humble without your cooperation. You have to take the other end of His yoke upon your neck and learn humility from Him (Matt.11:29). Failure here is the reason why many elders have fallen away.
Honesty is the twin of humility. They always go together. Many elders do not have the humility and honesty to seek for help from some older brother - until they are actually caught in some sin. They remain as hypocrites until they are exposed. And then some of them tell lies to cover up their sin. It is shocking when such a lack of honesty and truthfulness is seen in those who are supposed to lead others to a godly life.
Many leaders justify themselves when they are caught in sin. And when they do finally acknowledge their sin, they do it in the way King Saul did it - still seeking for honour from people for themselves (See 1 Sam.15:30).
God exposes all hypocrites finally. If Ananias and Sapphira had been part of a carnal church, such as the one in Corinth, they would have escaped detection, and even lived longer. But they could not escape exposure in a pure church (such as the church in Jerusalem was, in those days).
One of the surest signs that God supports a group of churches and their leaders is that He exposes sin in the lives of the hypocrites within them, sooner or later - and especially if any of them seek to be leaders.
Ruling over Fellow-Elders
It is possible for a strong elder to force his opinion on his fellow-elders, without being humbly open to their opinion as well. You must give your fellow-elders full freedom to share their opinions and to disagree with you. Thus God will save you from much folly and from many mistakes.
Every elder must feel free to share his opinion, honestly and boldly, without feeling intimidated by the opinion already expressed by a senior elder. If you disagree with a senior elder, you must still lovingly express your disagreement with him, even if you finally submit to his decision. Disagreement does not mean disunity.
If you are a lone elder in a church and even after five or six years, you still have not raised up another brother to share the responsibility of eldership with you, then you must ask yourself whether you have been a mini-dictator - and not an elder brother. Perhaps your strong personality ( that has not been poured out to death) may be the reason why other leadership is not growing up in your church.
Where an elder is a gifted person with a strong personality, he should learn to "pour out his soul to death" and lead the brothers and sisters to a direct connection to the Lord, and not make them dependent on him in any way. He must bring himself down to the same level as the brothers and sisters and not make them live in perpetual fear and awe of him. He should also seek to build fellowship with the brothers in the church who are sincere but different from him, and not be like a political leader who gives prime cabinet posts only to those who bow down to him.
As an elder, you must be careful to ensure that you don't become guilty of taking care of many vineyards (churches in other places) and neglecting your own vineyard (your local church) (Song of Sol.1:6b). It is easy to travel here and there and to preach in many churches, and neglect your base church.
If you don't build a brotherhood in your local church, and if other brothers with a sense of responsibility are not being raised up in your local church, then you have to consider your ministry as an elder as a failure, whatever else you may do. What then can you teach other churches? It will also be questionable then whether God is giving you grace for your ministry. When God gives an elder brother grace for his ministry, one mark will be that a brotherhood is gradually built up locally - a brotherhood that is not dependent on any one person.
Some dominant elders appoint a "Yes-man" as a second elder, just to keep the letter of the Word that there should be a plurality of elders in every church. It is understandable that a newly appointed elder will recognize greater spiritual maturity in an older, wiser elder. But the new elder should never be a "Yes-man", who blindly follows his senior elder - because then he will not be fulfilling his function to balance his fellow-elder. It is the responsibility of the senior elder to encourage the new elder to fulfil this function.
Peter warns his fellow-elders: "Do not lord it over your flock. Do not be tyrants. Do not bossily tell others what to do. But be good examples to them, tenderly showing them the right way" (1 Pet.5: 3 -various translations).
Elders can become drunk with power and become un-teachable and imagine themselves to be experts in their field. If they have gone beyond correction, then they are in great danger. "A poor yet wise lad is better than an old and foolish ruler who no longer knows how to receive instruction" (Eccl.4:13)
The very first qualification to be an elder is to have no desire to rule over anyone, but instead, a passionate desire to serve people and to wash their feet in humility.
You must win the confidence of mature younger brothers in your church and then let them take more and more responsibility in your church and in the ministry of the Word. All elders should encourage younger brothers who have proved themselves in the church, to start sharing the Word. An elder brother never retires. But he must give more and more responsibility to others. Thus he will become more free to help other churches.
So live in fear before God's face and have low thoughts about yourself, at all times. Never allow others to look up to you so much that you become like a 'mini-god' to them. God will give you grace if you walk in humility before Him - and there is no partiality with Him.
You should read and meditate frequently on the letters in the New Testament that were written specifically to church-elders: 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus and Revelation Chapters 2 and 3. These will be of great help to you.
For an elder brother to show partiality to his special friends and relatives is evil.
"The Word of God says, " You shall do no injustice in judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor nor defer to the great, but you are to judge your neighbour fairly " (Lev.19:15).
This is such a serious danger for elders that Paul had to warn his closest and most wholehearted co-worker Timothy to ensure that he did nothing from partiality (1 Tim.5:21) - and he gave that warning in very solemn words, saying, "I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of His chosen angels, to maintain these principles without bias, doing nothing in a spirit of partiality"
This shows that even a wholehearted 45-year-old brother like Timothy who had already worked with Paul for 25 years, could still be in danger of showing partiality. Otherwise he would not have needed this warning.
So any elder who ignores this warning and says, "I am never partial" will be the one who is most likely to be guilty of this sin.
When the Israelites worshipped the golden calf in the wilderness, Moses came down from the mountain and called all who were on the Lord's side to join him. The tribe of Levi alone joined him. He told them to go into the camp and execute God's judgment upon the idolaters, and to be totally free from partiality while doing so - to kill even their closest relatives who had sinned. They did exactly that - and God rewarded them by giving them the priesthood in Israel (Exod.32:27-29).
Moses himself did not show any partiality when appointing his successor. He had two sons. But he did not give the leadership of Israel to either of them. He chose Joshua. He lived before God's face and heard God and chose the one whom God had chosen. That is how a true leader acts. And that is how we must all be.
The prophet Samuel however failed in this area. He was partial towards his sons and appointed them as judges after him. Those sons "were only interested in making money and accepted bribes and did not decide cases honestly" (1 Sam.8:3 - TEV). So even great men can fail in this area, if they don't judge themselves. That is a warning for all of us.
I have seen similar instances where elders have shown partiality to their sons and daughters and to their close friends in a church. This has often led to injustice being done. And God Who sees the hearts of all men then withdraws His grace from such elders. These elders do not lose their salvation or their position as elders. But they do lose their anointing and their spiritual discernment. And the people gradually lose their confidence in them.
"The wisdom of God that comes from heaven shows no partiality at all to anyone" (James 3:17-KJV).
It is good for all of us to look back on our lives and on the actions and decisions we have taken in the past and check if any of them were governed by partiality. We must ask God to give us light on ourselves. Otherwise we will never see the corruption in our flesh in this area - and then we will remain defiled by partiality permanently.
It is best to assume that you have been partial in some of your actions and decisions in the past, and to ask God to give you light on those matters. Then He will give you light.
So, ask yourself questions like this: Did you ever cover up a wrong that someone did, because he was a friend of yours? Did you ever rebuke anyone more strongly than he deserved to be rebuked, because you didn't like him? Asking yourself questions like that will give you light. And when God gives you light in some area, then repent deeply.
All people are equal in God's eyes - and they must be so, in our eyes too. A cleansing from partiality will make your spiritual senses sharper and you will become a more effective elder thereafter
We must also be careful that wedon't show partiality to a poor man, just because he is poor (Exod.23:3). That is just as evil as showing partiality to the rich!
In most churches however, it is the rich and the educated who are shown partiality and honoured (James 2:1-4). It will be good to examine yourself in this matter: Look at the brothers who are closest to you as an elder and to whom you give responsibility - and see if they are all mostly rich, educated brothers. If so, you have (perhaps unconsciously) valued education and wealth, and side-lined the poorer, less educated brothers unconsciously. This would show that, in the unconscious part of you, you still value education and wealth more than spirituality. Such an attitude will destroy your church in the long run. Satan is out to neutralise your witness in many ways.
Never forget that Jesus chose fishermen to be his apostles.
We cannot see our own faults as elders, if we are not open to other mature brothers to correct us.
One mark of maturity and mutual confidence is that we can speak to each other as elders strongly on different issues, without getting offended.
In the early years of marriage, a husband and wife may have to be careful about whatthey say to each other, and how they say it, because their mutual relationship is not strong enough to bear any strain. But as they grow stronger in love for each other and are more secure with each other, they can share more freely with each other, without wondering whether their partner would be offended.
It must be so among elders too. If elders grow into a strong relationship of godly love with each other, they can speak strongly to one another in love even where they disagree, or where another is wrong - and that will benefit the church greatly. The great tragedy is that many elders never get to this place in their entire lives - and they get offended with the slightest correction.
Jesus rebuked Peter publicly, calling him "Satan" once. But Peter did not get offended with that rebuke (Matt.16:23). Peter was even rebuked publicly by Paul once (Gal.2:11) and he still did not get offended. Peter was obviously a spiritual man. Judas Iscariot, however, was so offended by a small correction that Jesus gave him that he immediately went and betrayed the Lord (See John 12:4-8 along with Matt.26:10-16).
Peter and Paul however were so secure in their relationship with God and loved each other so strongly that they did not get offended with each other. This is the height that we must strive to reach as elders with each other. However, in getting there, let me say this: It is best to begin by learning to receivecorrection without getting offended, before giving correction to another.>
Lessons from 1 & 2 Timothy
Paul told Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:16: " Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; for as you do this you will save yourself and others".
Timothy was Paul's best co-worker. Yet, Paul had to exhort and correct him in many matters. Here are 14 exhortations that Paul gave him:
In 1 Timothy:
1. 4:7: Discipline yourself to live a godly life.
In 2 Timothy:
These exhortations were given to Timothy when he was 45 years old and when he had already served God wholeheartedly for 25 years along with Paul.
Go through these 14 exhortations and ask yourself whether you have taken all of them seriously.
Humility to Receive Correction
What would your reaction be if you received such exhortations from an elder brother today? Do you feel that you are so mature that you don't need such corrections and rebukes any longer? If God sees such an attitude, He will never send anyone to correct you - and then you will be the loser. You can then end up as 'wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked' without even knowing your true condition (Rev.3:17).
"It is better to listen to the rebuke of a wise man than to listen to the song of fools " (Eccl.7:5). The 'song of fools' is the empty flattery of undiscerning and immature brothers and sisters. You can get so giddy and high-minded by listening to such "songs" and meditating on them, that you can gradually begin to feel that you no longer need any correction.
Demas was once a co-worker of Paul's (Col.4:14), and he must have received correction from Paul just like Timothy did. But he got offended and left Paul and went away into the world (2 Timothy 4:10).
James 1:21 says that we can be saved if we receive the Word with humility - and that includes the word of correction as well.
Remember that when the Israelites backslid, it was their leaders whom God rebuked through His prophets. The people of Israel went astray because their leaders had become slack and careless. The people had lost the fear of God because their leaders had lost the fear of God.
Fearing God and Receiving Correction
We are commanded in 2 Corinthians 7:1 to perfect holiness in the fear of God. So, if our holiness is not more perfect today, than it was last year, it would prove that we have not feared God enough. We should help each other in this matter as elders - because we are our brother's keepers. That is why God appoints more than one elder in each church. Hebrews 3:13 tells us to exhort one another daily, lest we become hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. Thus we can help each other to escape from being deceived.
We read in Isaiah 11:3 that the Spirit of God made Jesus "sensitive to the fear of God". The Holy Spirit can make us also sensitive to the fear of God - if we will allow Him. If we are really filled with the Holy Spirit, we will be filled with the fear of God.
God is always on our side and He is more than eager to fill us with the Holy Spirit than we are to be filled. He can do a great work through anyone of us, in spite of all our weaknesses. All we need to do is to humble ourselves and seek His face continually. God is always on our side against our flesh and against the devil.
We are living in a time when another Jesus (who does not demand discipleship) is being proclaimed among Christians, another spirit is being received (who gives counterfeit gifts but does not make people holy), and another gospel (of health and wealth) is being preached (2 Cor.11:4). So we must be faithful in our time to uplift theReal Jesus, the Holy Spirit and the gospel of the grace of God.
Apologising Without Justifying Oneself
If we are not broken and contrite and poor in spirit, we will be reluctant (or hesitant) to apologize in all humility, as soon as we are aware that we have done something wrong.
The most difficult ten words for most human beings to say are: "I am sorry. That was my mistake. Please forgive me."
An unbroken spirit will also make us justify ourselves, when we apologize. But an apology is not an apology, if it contains any self-justification in it. If there is even a smell of self-justification in our apology, we can be certain that we are not broken. Justifying oneself, Jesus said, was the mark of a Pharisee (Luke 16:15).
When we realize that something we did was wrong, we mustacknowledge it immediately and set it right immediately. A broken man will have no problem doing this. An unbroken man however will delay in doing both of these. And when he does apologise, he will blame someone else as well. When Adam sinned, he admitted that he ate the forbidden fruit, but he justified himself saying that the woman whom God had given him was the one who offered it to him. Thereby, he blamed his wife; and he blamed God as well, for giving him such a wife! That is not the way to confess any sin or mistake.
Notice however, how David confessed his sin in Psalm 51. We don't sense even a smell of self-justification there. That is the mark of a truly broken man. I would recommend that you meditate on Psalm 51 at length and seek to understand from the Lord what brokenness really means and how you should confess your sins.
Further, in order to justify yourself, you may even tell a lie. The lie may only be a small one - in the form of an exaggeration or a hiding of some of the events, in order to present ourselves in a good light. It is easy to tell one lie, but it is difficult to tell only one lie - because once we have told one lie, we will have to tell more lies to back up the first lie. We must hate lying, and love the truth wholeheartedly. Otherwise we will lose the anointing and the good-pleasure of God over our lives - and that is the greatest loss we can ever sustain.
When God sees some pride in us that needs to be exposed and destroyed, He will allow some little incident to happen in our lives that will make us stumble and fall in some way ( See Ezekiel 3:20: "...when I place an obstacle before him....").
And when we fall, the Lord will test us to see if we (1) acknowledge our pride - that made us fall, (2) confess our sin, (3) humble ourselves before Him, and (4) set things right with men. If we judge ourselves and do these things, we will not be judged. But if we justify ourselves, we will remain unbroken and one day be condemned along with the world (1 Cor.11:31, 32).
Acknowledging our Mistakes
God wants us to be honest in acknowledging our mistakes.
But many elders are unwilling to acknowledge their mistakes. This is very serious and is only due to pride. Then there will be no grace on their ministry, for God resists the proud.
God values highly those who judge themselves and who are quick to acknowledge their mistakes and apologize. I have always lost confidence in a brother whenever I have discovered that he told me a lie, or whenever I have seen that he is reluctant to acknowledge his mistakes and apologize.
Weall make mistakes. God is the only One Who never makes any mistakes. And when we make a mistake we must acknowledge it immediately and confess it both to God and to all those who were affected by our mistakes. It is in confessing our sin to our fellow-believers who have been affected by it that our humility as an elder is tested.
A good question that all elders should ask themselves is: "When was the last time I confessed a mistake (or sin) and asked for forgiveness from another brother?"
It is only when we have honestly confessed our sins both to God and to man, that God can say to us that He will not remember our sins any more (Heb.8:12).
Let me also add that we must learn lessons from all our past mistakes. Otherwise we will repeat those mistakes again.
Allowing God to Break us
Jesus once used 5 loaves of bread to feed a multitude. He first blessed the loaves. But the 5 loaves still remained as 5 loaves - and the multitude was not fed. It was only when the loaves were broken that the multitude was fed. So, being blessed (anointed) by the Spirit is not enough. We also need to be broken by the Lord. Then we will keep our face in the dust and the power of God will flow through us, unhindered.
Moses and Aaron were commissioned at the same time as leaders of God's people in Exodus 4. Aaron was a fluent speaker, but Moses was not (Exod.4:10, 14). Yet God used Moses and not Aaron - because Moses was a broken man, but Aaron was not.
God had taken Moses through a 40-year breaking period in the wilderness. God humbled him, bringing him down from being a ruler in a palace to being a shepherd in a desert. And He made him stay with his father-in-law for 40 years - and work for him as well! That was enough to break him thoroughly. Aaron never had such a breaking. That was what made the difference between the two of them.
We can see the difference between the effectiveness of these two men in Exodus 32. The people of Israel followed the Lord as long as the broken man Moses was in their midst. But when Moses went away from them for just 40 days, and Aaron became their leader temporarily, they drifted away into idolatry and started worshipping a golden calf immediately. Aaron was an eloquent speaker. But he could not preserve God's people in purity, because he sought to please men.
Unbroken elders always seek their own honour and seek to please the people in their church. That is why their people drift away from the Lord.
It was one broken man Moses who preserved two million people in God's ways for 40 years in the wilderness. That is how it has been throughout the centuries in church history as well. God has used broken men to preserve His church in His ways.
Submission Leads to Brokenness
God breaks us by asking us to submit to our elders. Here is a quotation from my book "A Spiritual Leader":
"Submission to a godly man will not only protect us from doing many foolish things, but will also enable us to learn a great deal of wisdom from him. He will be able to warn us about dangers that he himself has faced that we may be unaware of. So to be under spiritual authority is as safe for us, as it is for children to be under their parents.
"In 1 Peter 5:5 we read that younger men should be subject to their elders, because God is opposed to the proud but gives grace to the humble. Here we see a great secret of obtaining spiritual authority from God.
I've known many fine brothers who were never given spiritual authority by God, for just one reason: They never learned to be subject to anyone in their entire lives. And so their strong will was never broken. Authority is a very dangerous thing in the hands of an unbroken man. If you're not broken first and you try to exercise authority over people, you'll ruin them and you'll destroy yourself in the process too. God has to break the strength of our pride first before He can commit spiritual authority to any of us.
"Let me tell you of my own experience briefly. For ten years, between the ages of 20 and 30 in my life, God allowed me to be pushed down and publicly humiliated in more than one church, by elders who were jealous of my ministry. In all those instances, the Lord told me to keep my mouth shut and to submit to those elders without questioning them. And I did. I kept a good relationship with them when I was in their churches and even after leaving their churches. In those years, I never knew what ministry God had in store for me in the future. But God was preparing me to exercise spiritual authority by breaking me over a period of many years. He hasn't finished with breaking me as yet. Over the past few years, God has taken me through new trials that I've never experienced before - like being taken to court by religious people and being falsely accused there - for 10 years. But His purpose in my life remains the same - to break me even more, so that He can commit more of His life and His authority to me.
"God breaks our strength and our pride by correcting us through our leaders. Almost all believers find it very difficult to receive correction. It's not easy even for a two-year-old child to receive correction - especially if it's given publicly.
When was the last time you joyfully accepted public correction? Have you accepted it even once in your life? If not, then it's not surprising that you lack spiritual authority.
"Unbroken people tend to be lonely people. They never submit to anyone. They go where they want to go and do what they want to do. Such unbroken believers can work only with those who obey them and accept everything they say. God can never commit spiritual authority to such "loners", because He's building a Body and not a bunch of individualistic believers!"
The very first time that Jesus spoke about the church, He spoke of it being engaged in spiritual warfare with Satanic forces. He said, " I will build My church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it " (Matt.16:18).
Notice carefully what He said. It is not the church's gates that are being attacked by the powers of darkness, but rather the gates of hell being attacked by the church. All elders of churches must understand this clearly - that the church isnot called to be on the defensive against Satanic attacks, but on the offensive - just as Jesus Himself (the first Body of Christ) was. We are called to destroy Satan's strongholds.
Satan was Defeated on the Cross
We must first know for certain that Satan was defeated on the cross.
Four things happened on the cross:
1. Christ died for our sins on the cross (1 Cor.15:3). So all our sins can be forgiven.
2. Christ became a curse for us on the cross (Gal. 3:13). So no curse (ancestral curse or any other curse) can ever come upon us.
3. Our old man was crucified with Christ on the cross (Rom. 6:6). So we need never serve sin for the rest of our lives.
4. Satan was defeated on the cross and stripped of his armour (Col.2:15; Heb.2:14). So we need never be afraid of him and he can have no power over us.
But most believers are ignorant of this fourth truth - Satan's defeat.
Jesus said, "How can anyone enter the strong man's (Satan's) house and carry off his property, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house. Anyone who isn't helping me (in this battle) is against me" (Matt.12:29, 30 - NASB and Living).
So we must be convinced about Satan's defeat.
In Old Testament times, God did not allow Israel to confront Satan, because Satan had not been defeated then - and so the Israelites would have been overpowered by Satan. But once Satan was defeated on the cross, the church can confront Satan and overcome him constantly. If we resist him, he will flee from us (James 4:7).
We don't have to fight with Satan now but only resist him. If we believe in our hearts and confess with our mouths that Satan was defeated on the cross and that he has no power over us - and then resist him in Jesus' Name, he will flee. Satan will not be able to depress us or defeat us, as long as we hold fast to this confession. We overcome Satan by this word of our testimony (Rev.12:11).
Satan's Attacks and Doctrines of Demons
Satan has had 2000 years of experience in attacking the church. So he has learnt a few lessons:
1. Satan knows that it is better to infiltrate the church and attack it from within than from outside (by persecution), because he knows that when the attack comes from outside, it will unite all the church members against him.
2. Satan knows that it is better to attack the church with false doctrine proclaimed by a person living a good life than even by making a leader fall into immorality - because believers will lose confidence in a leader who falls into immorality. But since most believers are undiscerning, Satan knows that he can easily lead them astray through deceivers who live a good life.
3. Satan knows that if he comes as an angel of light, quoting the Bible and preaching "love" (a false love that compromises the truth), he can lead more believers astray than if he comes as a demon of darkness quoting some other holy book, or if he comes preaching "hatred".
Because most believers are not well-versed in the Scriptures, they are easily led astray by those who quote just one side of the truth. When Satan quoted one side of truth to Jesus, Jesus countered it by quoting the other side of the truth (Matt.4:6, 7). Most false doctrines and cults in Christendom have originated with people who major on one Scripture-verse ignoring other truths that balance it.
As foretold in the Scriptures (in 1 Tim.4:1-3), a flood of deceiving spirits has already invaded Christendom with "doctrines of demons" . These doctrines are being spread everywhere through books and the Internet and are more dangerous than pornography - because pornography can easily be recognized by everyone as evil, whereas some of these doctrines of demons cannot be recognized as evil.
The first two "doctrines of demons" that were propagated on earth were these:
1. Satan told Eve that even if she disobeyed God she would NOT DIE (Gen.3:4). Satan was implying that "a loving God" would never allow any of His creatures to be punished for their sin. Even today Satan propagates the same lie - that it doesn't matter if you sin, because a loving God can never send anyone to hell for eternity.
2. Satan told Eve that she could be like God and thus be independent of God. He thereby taught her to rebel against authority just like Satan himself had rebelled many years earlier. This is another characteristic of many Christians today: They are not submissive to any authority over them. That is how they go astray into false doctrines. God has appointed spiritual fathers in the church, just as in homes - for the protection of the "babes". Anyone who does not accept the protection of these "fathers" is in danger.
Eve was deceived by Satan and many are deceived today too. Eve was cast out of God's presence and those who believe Satan's doctrines today will be cast out of God's presence permanently, one day.
God allowed the head of the angels (who later became Satan) in heaven to gather together all the angels who had even a trace of a spirit of rebellion in them. Then God cast them all out of heaven together, in a moment. Thus heaven was cleansed. In the same way today, God allows those who have a spirit of rebellion in the church to gather together all others who have the same rebellious spirit. He allows them to cause a split in a church. Thus that church is cleansed. This is the Lucifer-ministry that is going on in many churches today - and God allows it to happen, to cleanse the church.
Satan is the main Accuser of all believers (Rev.12:10). But he is always looking for co-workers from among believers to help him in this work. And he finds many such co-workers throughout the world.
Satan tells lies to us. But when he accuses us to God, every accusation he makes against us has to be true, because Satan dare not lie to God. But his spirit is still the spirit of accusation, even though he is speaking the truth. We must learn something from that - and that is this: If we speak about a brother's sins behind his back instead of speaking to him directly, we become co-workers with Satan in this ministry of accusation, even though every word we speak may be true.
We must never have such a fellowship with the Accuser. If a brother has sinned, we are commanded to try and restore him, in a spirit of meekness (Gal.6:1). We should speak to him directly. If he refuses to listen to us, then we should tell the elders about him. If he doesn't listen even to the elders, then the whole church can be told about his unwillingness to submit to spiritual authority. Then he should be put out of the church. This is the procedure clearly laid down by the Lord Jesus in Matthew 18:15-20. Jesus went on to say that we could thus bind Satan's activity of accusation in the church.
If an accusation is made against an elder, it should be taken seriously if two or more reliable people have made that accusation (1Tim.5:19). The matter must then be carefully investigated by other senior elders. Under the old covenant, God clearly commanded saying, " You shall first investigate and search out and inquire the matter thoroughly and ensure that it is true and proven….." (Deut.13:14). If the elder is proven to be continuing in sin, then he must be rebuked publicly by a senior elder in the presence of the church (1 Tim.5:20).
If a senior elder does not do that publicly, out of a false sense of compassion, he will be claiming thereby that his understanding is superior to that of the Holy Spirit! It is best to walk in humility and to obey what the Word of God says.
And now, here are two promises to encourage those who are being falsely accused by others:
"Their insults cannot hurt me, because the Sovereign Lord gives me help. I brace myself to endure them. I know that I will not be disgraced, for God is near, and He will prove me innocent. Does anyone dare to bring charges against me? Let us go to court together! Let him bring his accusation! The Sovereign Lord Himself defends me - who then can prove me guilty? All my accusers will disappear; they will vanish like moth-eaten cloth ...... All of you that plot to destroy others will be destroyed by your own plots. The Lord Himself will make that happen." (Isa.50:7-11 - Good News Bible)
"No weapon turned against you shall succeed, and you will have justice against every courtroom lie. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord. This is the blessing I have given you, says the Lord" (Isa.54:17 - Living).
God allows Satan to test His people, to show everyone the true heart-condition of those who call themselves by His Name. The Lord will allow us to face many trying situations to test whether, in a world full oflying and hatred, we will abide in truth and in love until the end.
Those who have eyes to see will thus be able to discern who are godly and who are not, and who are motivated by goodness and who are motivated by jealousy and hatred. But some will remain blind and without discernment (like the Pharisees) until the end. The gold will become purer in the fire but the straw will be reduced to ashes.
Jesus Triumphed Over Satan
When Jesus said "It is finished" on the cross, the devil's kingdom was finished. So today, we resist an enemy who has already been defeated.
This is what we must always bear in mind, when we face the trials of life. As you face that difficult situation in your home, or in your financial situation, or in your factory, or with a difficult child, remember that Satan's power was finished on the cross. He has been defeated and he cannot win the battle against you now, no matter how difficult a trial he may arrange for you. Always remember Jesus' words, "It is finished" and tell Satan that he was defeated and has no power over you.
Someone brought an unconverted lady to my house for prayer once - and my wife and I sat and talked with her. After talking with her and praying with her, I asked her to speak to Satan and tell him, "Satan, I don't belong to you. Jesus Christ defeated you on the cross." She suddenly changed her voice and said, "I was not defeated on the cross"! I realized then that she had a demon inside her. So, I told the demon quietly, but authoritatively, "You are a liar, you demon. You were defeated on the cross. In Jesus' Name, get out of her right now." The demon left immediately. Then the lady could tell Satan boldly that Jesus Christ had defeated him on the cross.
If your conscience is clear and you have faith, you will never have to raise your voice to cast out a demon and you won't have to tell him more than once to leave. "Jesus cast out evil spirits with a single word" (Matt.8:16). And He did that quietly. And in His Name, we can do the same.
I learnt one thing that day - that Satan does not like to be told that he was defeated on the cross.
Even if your trials are hard and long drawn-out, don't ever give up. You will definitely overcome all of Satan's attacks. Just hold on and don't give up. God will bring you through triumphantly.
Those who trust in God will never be disappointed. So never get discouraged. God is always on your side against Satan. And He will never let you down.
Freedom from Fear
Satan is also the author of fear. Jesus was as much against fear as He was against sin. Many times He told people,"Don't be afraid" (Fear not), just like He said, "Don't sin." Jesus was against people living in fear as much as He was against people living in sin.
Because we trust in the Lord, we need never be afraid. If we accidentally slip up and become afraid or anxious about something, we must get out of it immediately, confess our fear to God and trust Him to take care of us.
Satan attacks the work of God in many ways. But God answers the prayers of His children. Jesus once said that certain demons could be cast out only by prayer and fasting. That means that if we don't fast and pray, some demons will remain where they are entrenched and will hinder the work of God. God has made His work on earth dependent on us - the Body of Christ. This is a great privilege but also a great responsibility. The Lord has promised us that the powers of darkness will not prevail against His church.
There are many anti-Christian forces operating in the world. But God has not given us the spirit of fear. Those who honour Him will be honoured by Him. So we must not allow ourselves to be moved by fear at any time. Like David who refused to use Saul's armour, we will also not depend on men or on the arm of flesh to help us at such a time. David fought Goliath with spiritual weapons - the Name of the Lord. Our weapons are spiritual too (2 Cor.10:4). And we will certainly overcome - always.
Jesus told us that He was sending us into a wicked world, "as sheep among wolves" But He also told us in the same verse to be "shrewd as serpents" (Matt.10:16).
The Lord has all authority in heaven and on earth and has promised to be with us at all times and to exercise that authority on our behalf, if we go forth to make disciples in all nations (Matt.28:19, 20). It is enough if He is with us. With Him on our side, we can face opposition even from the whole world.
Jesus said, "Stop allowing yourselves to be agitated and disturbed; and do not permit yourselves to be fearful and intimidated and cowardly and unsettled." (John 14:27 - Amplified Bible)
The Word of God commands us saying, "Don't panic like many others are doing. Don't fear anyone or anything except the Lord of heaven! If you fear God, you need fear nothing else. He Himself will be your safety." (Isa.8:12-14 - Living Bible).
"God says, 'I will never desert you and I will never forsake you' . So we can confidently say, 'The Lord is my helper. I will not be afraid. What can any man do to me?' Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever" (Heb.13:5-8).
There are two things we must remember in relation to "fear":
1. We should never take a decision based on fear, but always on the basis of faith in God.
2. Fear is Satan's weapon. So all who try to frighten or threaten others in any way are actually in fellowship with Satan (even if they don't know it). So we should never use that weapon on anyone (See Eph.6:10 and 2 Tim.1:7).
God uses the evil that others do to us to give us new revelations on His Word and new experiences of His grace that we would not otherwise have had.
The Word of God says, "We are not fighting against human beings but against the wicked spiritual forces in the heavenly world, the rulers, authorities, and cosmic powers of this dark age" (Eph.6:12 -TEV). The Lord taught me from that verse thatif I wanted to fight effectively against Satanic forces, I must never fight with human beings.
Under the old covenant, the Israelites fought with human beings. But in the new covenant, we are never to fight with human beings, but only with Satan and his demons. Jesus showed us that by His example. Many believers are not able to overcome Satan, because they fight with their wives, their husbands, their neighbours and other believers, etc.
Determine that, in future, you will never fight with any human being, and then you will be effective in your battle against Satan.
If we follow God's ways implicitly, we will overcome Satan and his schemes at all times and we will live in triumph constantly.
For the first 300 years of Christianity, almost all Christians lived under anti-Christian rulers who often persecuted them and killed many of them. God, in His great wisdom, permitted people to persecute His children, for His glory. Even today, God has permitted some of His finest children to live under governments that persecute them.
The Church will Face Tribulation
The church has always flourished best under persecution. But wherever the church experiences ease, comfort and material prosperity, in most cases it becomes worldly.
As long as we are in the world, we will face tribulation, persecution and trials. So we need not expect an easy time - either in our work-place or in our personal life - as we approach the end of this age.
Days of financial difficulties will come. So we must learn to live simply even now. Those who live in luxury will find things to be very difficult in the coming days. We must be wise in saving money for the future, so that we don't have to depend on others. But our trust must not be in our savings, but in the Lord alone . God is a jealous God and He will never allow us to trust in anything created.
God will shake the world's financial systems, so that those who trust in created things will be shaken. As Jesus said, we will see brothers betraying brothers and our family-members becoming our enemies (Matt.10:21). There will be active persecution of believers in offices and in factories. All this will purify us and make us better Christians.
1 Peter 3:13 says that no-one can harm us if we always seek to do good. So we must determine, by God's grace, to do good to one and all. We must love those who hate us, bless those who curse us, and pray for the forgiveness of those who persecute us. Then no-one will be able to harm us. Satan and his agents may cheat us, trouble us, harass us, rob us, injure us, imprison us and even kill our bodies. But they will never be able to harm us spiritually.
The Lord will Always Support Us
The Lord will never leave us nor forsake us. He won't leave us even if we slip up and fail Him in times of persecution - if we humble ourselves. The Lord is near the broken-hearted. "Even if we fall, our fall won't be fatal, because the Lord will hold us with His hand" (Psa.37:24-Living).
God's sovereignty is so great and total that He will not only make the evil that others do to us to work for our good, but also makeour own failures also to work for our good. He makes all things work together for our very best (Rom.8:28). The Lord will deliver us from every evil and bring us through triumphantly. Our confidence is in His ability to keep us until the end and not in our own ability to endure until the end. So we look at the future with great confidence and not with any fear.
We run the race looking away from everything else, unto Jesus (Heb.12:2) - never looking at our past failures, our present weaknesses, or our future fears. The Lord will make us overcomers, no matter how weak we are and no matter how much we have failed in the past.
We must prepare Christians all over the world to face persecution for their faith in the coming days. There are four commands that our Lord has given us for such days:
1. "Be wise as serpents and harmless as doves" (Matt.10:16).
We must not be foolish in our witnessing, but wise. Our lives must speak for Christ, where we live and where we work. In our witness for the Lord, we must make it clear that we are speaking about a Person - Jesus Christ - and not about the Christian religion being superior to other religions. Jesus will draw people to Himself, when He is lifted up (John 12:32).
We must also be alert to discern non-Christian spies who will pretend to be interested in Christianity, when their real motive may be to accuse us of some word we use in order to take us to court for "forcibly trying to convert them".
So we must be wise as well as loving - as Jesus was:
(a) "Jesus did not entrust Himself to some people, because He knew what was in them" (John 2:23-25). Discern everyone.
(b) "Jesus was unwilling to walk in Judea because the Jews there were seeking to kill Him" (John 7:1). Avoid unnecessary danger.
(c) "Pray for those who persecute you" (Matt.5:44). Be good - and don't become evil because others are evil.
2. "Live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God" (Matt.4:4).
In times of persecution, the most important requirement is to be sensitive to the word that God is speaking to our hearts. We must develop the habit of a listening attitude to God throughout the day. The word we hear from God must then be believed and obeyed. Otherwise it has no value. So we must meditate more on the Word of God (especially the New Testament) - for only thus will we be able to discern God's voice. And then we must "trust and obey" .
3. "Love one another as I have loved you. All men will know you are My disciples, when you love one another" (John 13:34, 35).
Both in our home and in our churches, we must stop all judging of one another, all backbiting against one another, all quarrelling with each other, and all suspicion of one another. Discernment is a Divine quality, but suspicion is a Satanic quality. Now is the time to concentrate on fighting sin and Satan in our lives. Now is the time to actively pursue loving our marriage partners and loving our fellow-believers.
4. "In the world you WILL HAVE tribulation. But be bold. I have overcome the world" (John 16:33).
God is on the throne and He will never forsake His own. Satan was defeated 2000 years ago. We are the apple of God's eye, and so He will be a wall of fire around us (Zech.2:5, 8). No weapon formed against us will ever prosper (Isa. 54:17). So let us "be content with what we have, for God Himself has said, 'I will never leave you, nor will I ever forsake you'. So that we may boldly say, 'The Lord is my Helper. I will not be afraid. What will man do to me?'" (Heb.13:5, 6).
Let us also pray, "Come soon, Lord Jesus" (Rev.22:20).
Being Wise During Persecution
In view of the changing circumstances in India, elders of churches need much wisdom to know what to stand for and what not to stand for. We also need wisdom to advice our fellow-believers in these matters.
Persecution is different from opposition. Opposition is something we will always face in varying degrees when we stand for new-covenant principles. Persecution however refers more to physical threats to our life etc., (mostly from non-Christians).
When Jesus sent out His disciples to preach the gospel (evangelism), He told them that if they faced persecution in one city, they should run to another (Matt.10:23). There is no virtue in continuing to preach the gospel in a place where there is persecution, if we can preach the gospel more freely in another needy place. "He who fights and runs away will live to fight another day"!
Two points however need to be noted.
Firstly, when Jesus faced a threat to His life in Judea, He did not go there (John 7:1; 11:53, 54). But when He felt a clear leading from the Father to go there, then He went. And no-one could stop Him (Luke 9:51). It was the same with Paul (Acts 21:11-13). So we can go even to a dangerous place if we have a clear and specific leading from the Lord to go there - but not until that time.
Secondly, building the church is different from evangelism. If we have responsibility for the Lord's flock in a place, we cannot leave them and run away at a time of persecution. Jesus said that only hirelings would run away when the wolf comes (John 10:12). So when Jesus told His disciples in Matthew 10:23 to flee to another city, it was because they were engaged in evangelism and not church-building. But even if we are the shepherds in a church, we should still act wisely if there is a threat to our lives. There may be times when it may be wiser for the leader to go to another place temporarily (as Paul did in Acts 17:10). To live by faith does not mean that we should not use our common sense. Faith is based on a specific word of God (Rom.10:17). In the absence of such a specific word from God, we must always use our common sense. Otherwise we can be foolish and act with a false sense of bravery, just like those who refuse to take medicines when they are sick!
Christians will be more and more " like sheep in the midst of wolves" in the coming days, just as Jesus said (Matt.10:16). But our heavenly Father cares for even the hairs on our head; and we are of more value to Him than all the birds in the world (Matt.10:29, 30). So, we are not afraid of men or Satan. We are also not afraid of any anti-Christian organization or government. We will obey all the government's laws, but only as far as our conscience permits us, according to the teachings of Christ and the Bible. We will never compromise on what we believe to be the truth.
Wherever any laws have been passed by the government, we should respect them as far as possible, wherever they do not come into conflict with God's commands in His Word. The only time when we can disobey secular authorities, is when they ask us to do something that is forbidden by God in His Word (See Acts 5:29).
At the same time, Jesus also told us to " be wise as snakes and harmless as doves" (Matt.10:16). So we must not harm anyone by our actions or by our words.
Finally, remember two important things that we must always do:
1. Always live in humility and with a good conscience. Then God will be with us. And "if God be for us who can be against us" (Rom.8:31).
2. Always take decisions in faith. Be careful and wise in every action, but never take a decision out of fear.
Be Careful Not to Criticise
We must be careful that we do not speak against other religions and their idols by name. We must not make fun of them either. Jesus never spoke about such matters. He spoke mostly about the hypocrisy of those who claimed to know the true God.
Consider the example of the apostle Paul: When he was in Ephesus and had preached the truth uncompromisingly, there was a big commotion in the city. Finally the mayor of the city called the people and told them, "This man has not defamed our great goddess Diana" (Acts 19:37). Paul preached Christ. But he did not denounce the false gods that the people in Ephesus were worshipping. His message was a positive one - that Christ could save them from their sins. It was not a negative message, criticising their false gods and their idols. That was Divine wisdom. Once a person comes to Christ, the Lord Himself will do the job of delivering them from their idols.
This is the wisdom we also need to have. We must not criticise any religion, or its beliefs, or its practices. That is NOT our message. We preach Christ only - Jesus Christ crucified for our sins, risen from the dead, alive in heaven today, and returning soon to judge the world. That is our message - and we call everyone to turn from their sins and to receive Christ as their Lord and Saviour. But we do NOT force anyone to do that. This is what we must preach - even to the little children. We must invite them to accept Christ, not compel them. God gives freedom to everyone. We must give people freedom too. When people genuinely receive Christ into their lives, the other false things in their lives will all gradually drop away over a period of time, because the Holy Spirit will convict them of sin.
Our calling is to proclaim Christ as the only Saviour of the world. We must also speak against sin and judge ourselves and expose hypocrisy in our own midst first of all. Many zealous but unwise brothers and sisters at times name other religions in their words and their prayers unnecessarily. We must warn such people to be careful in what they say. It is better to speak of "non-Christians" than to use the name of any particular religion. God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world but to save it (John 3:17). Our calling is to follow Jesus' example and so we must always seek to save others, not condemn them.
Availing the Help of Lawyers and Influential People
There is nothing wrong in availing the services of a lawyer to defend us, if we are taken to a police station or accused in a court.
Jesus told His disciples to take a sword with them when they were going to face their enemies (Luke 22:36-38). This sword was not to attack their enemies. When Peter did attack, Jesus immediately told him to put his sword back in its sheath, saying that those who took the sword would perish by the sword (Matt.26:52). The sword was meant only for self-defence, if the enemies attacked first. So, we do have the right to defend ourselves, using every legitimate means, including using a lawyer or making a complaint to the police authorities. Paul defended himself in court and even appealed to the Supreme Court in Rome (Caesar) (Acts 25:11).
We can also use the influence of any influential people we know, to help us. Joseph of Arimathea used his influence with Pilate to bring the body of Christ down from the cross and bury it. So if influential people are willing to help us to further the work of God, we can avail of their help.
However, whether we use lawyers or influential people, our trust must be in the Lord alone, and not in men. Just as, when we go to a doctor for medical treatment, we don't trust in him or in the medicines he prescribes, but we trust the Lord alone to heal us (See Jer.17:5-8).
We must also bear in mind that our Lord told us that He would give us wisdom as to what to say when we are brought before secular authorities (Read Luke 12:11, 12 and 21:12-15).
Our trust must always be in our heavenly Father alone, to help us at all times, as we seek to be His witnesses in a dark and evil world. Remember that He has sent even His angels to serve us and help us (Heb.1:14).
The Pure in Heart will See God
In Gethsemane, we read in John 18:10, 11: "Simon Peter having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest's slave, and cut off his right ear. Then Jesus said to Peter, "Put the sword into the sheath; the cup which the Father has given Me, shall I not drink it?"
Peter saw only Judas Iscariot and the Roman soldiers. But Jesus saw that it was His Father Who had given Him that cup to drink. Judas was only the postman who brought the cup.
In Matthew 5:8 we read that the pure in heart will see God. So, if we love God with all our hearts, we will see only God in every situation. If however our mind is occupied with our enemies and our difficult circumstances - that would prove that our hearts are impure.
We read in Isaiah 6:3 that the angels (seraphs) in heaven proclaim that "the whole earth is full of God's glory". They saw the glory of God not only in heaven but also on earth. That means that they saw God as being in control of all the events on earth. Nebuchadnezzar said in Daniel 4:35, "All the people of earth are nothing compared to God. He does whatever he thinks is best in heaven and on earth. No one can stop him or question him, saying, 'What are you doing?'" God is on the throne - and He will never forget about even the weakest of us, His children.
2 Corinthians 11:3 warns us of the danger of Satan leading us away from " simple devotion to Christ ". It says there how Eve was led astray by Satan to the tree of knowledge of good and evil. That tree was a distraction that took her away from God's presence. There can be many distractions like that in our lives that draw us away from the Lord. We must fear every such distraction. What we need in these days is what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7:35: " an undistracted devotion to the Lord ".
Every elder must be a godly man. Here are 50 marks of genuinely godly men.
1. Godly men stand before God's face and hear His voice daily.
2. Godly men have no desire in their heart for anyone or anything other than God Himself.
3. Godly men fear God so greatly that they hate sin in every form and love righteousness and truth in all their ways.
4. Godly men have overcome anger and sexually sinful thoughts, and would rather die than sin even in thought or attitude.
5. Godly men have a daily lifestyle of taking up the cross and pressing on to perfection, and constantly working out their own salvation with fear and trembling (Heb.6:1; Phil.2:12, 13).
6. Godly men are full of the Holy Spirit and so rooted and grounded in love that nothing can ever move them into an unloving attitude towards another human being however great the provocation.
7. Godly men are so rooted and grounded in humility that neither human praise nor spiritual growth, neither a divinely endorsed ministry nor anything else will be able to make them lose the awareness of their being less than the least of all the saints (Eph.3:8).
8. Godly men have an understanding of God's nature and purpose through His word, and tremble at that word so that they will not disobey even the smallest commandment or neglect to teach it to others (Isa.66:2; Matt.5:19).
9. Godly men proclaim the whole counsel of God and expose religious harlotry and unscriptural human traditions.
10. Godly men have the revelation of the Holy Spirit on the secret of godliness, on Christ having come in the flesh and opened a new and living way through the flesh (1 Tim.3:16; Heb. 10:20).
11. Godly men are diligent and hard-working, but also have a sense of humour, and know how to relax and play with children and enjoy God's good gifts in nature.
12. Godly men are not ascetics, but at the same time live a disciplined life and are not afraid of hardships (1 Cor.9:27; 2 Tim.2:3).
13. Godly men have no interest in expensive clothing or sight-seeing and will not waste their time in unprofitable activities or their money in unnecessary purchases.
14. Godly men have mastered their desire for fancy foods and are not enslaved to music or sport or any other legitimate activity (1 Cor.6:12, 13).
15. Godly men have been disciplined successfully by God in the fires of affliction, abuse, tribulations, false accusation, physical sickness, financial hardships and opposition from relatives and religious leaders.
16. Godly men are full of mercy and can sympathise with the worst of sinners and the worst of believers, and have hope for them, because they consider themselves to be the foremost of sinners (1 Tim.1:15).
17. Godly men are so deeply rooted in the security of the love of their Heavenly Father that they are never anxious about anything, or afraid of Satan or evil men or difficult situations or anything.
18. Godly men have entered into God's rest, believing in the sovereign working of God in all matters for their best and therefore give thanks always for all men, for all things and in all circumstances (Rom.8:28; Eph.5:20; 1 Thess.5:18; 1 Tim.2:1).
19. Godly men find their joy in God alone and are therefore full of the joy of the Lord, having overcome all bad moods.
20. Godly men have a living faith, and have no confidence in themselves or their natural abilities, but complete confidence in God as their unfailing Helper in all situations (Phil.3:3).
21. Godly men live, not by the promptings of their own reason, but by the leading of the Holy Spirit.
22. Godly men have been genuinely baptized in the Holy Spirit and fire by Christ Himself (and not thrilled by some emotional counterfeit or convinced by some theological argument) (Matt.3:11).
23. Godly men live constantly under the anointing of the Spirit, endowed with the supernatural gifts that He has given them (Eph.5:18; 1 Cor.14:1).
24. Godly men have revelation on the church as the body of Christ (and not a congregation or a denomination), and give all their energies, their material wealth and spiritual gifts to build that church.
25. Godly men have learnt to bridle their tongues through the help of the Holy Spirit and their tongues are now aflame with the divine Word.
26. Godly men have forsaken all, and are not attracted any more to money or material things, and desire no gifts from others (Luke 14:33).
27. Godly men can trust God for all their earthly needs and never hint about their material needs or boast about their labours, either in their conversation or through letters and reports (Matt.6:33).
28. Godly men are not stubborn, but gentle, and open to criticism and eager for correction from older and wiser brothers.
29. Godly men have no desire to dominate or advise others (although ready to give advice, when asked for), and have no longing to be considered as 'elder' brothers, or leaders, but only desire to be ordinary brothers and servants of all.
30. Godly men are easy to get along with, and are willing to be inconvenienced and taken advantage of by others.
31. Godly men make no distinction between the millionaire and the beggar, the white-skinned and the dark-skinned, the intellectual and the idiot, and the cultured and the barbarian, but treat them all alike.
32. Godly men are never influenced by their wife, children, relatives, friends or other believers to cool off even slightly in their devotion to Christ or their obedience to God's commandments.
33. Godly men can never be bribed to compromise by any reward that Satan may offer (whether honour or money or whatever).
34. Godly men are fearless witnesses for Christ, fearing neither religious leaders nor secular heads.
35. Godly men desire to please no human being on the face of the earth, and are willing to offend all men, if necessary, in order to please God alone.
36. Godly men always put God's glory, God's will and God's kingdom over mere human need and their own comfort.
37. Godly men cannot be pressurised either by others or by their own reason into doing 'dead works' for God, but are eager and content to do only the revealed will of God for their lives.
38. Godly men have the discernment of the Spirit to distinguish between the soulish and the spiritual in Christian work.
39. Godly men look at things from a heavenly viewpoint and not an earthly one.
40. Godly men refuse all earthly honours and titles offered them for their labours for God.
41. Godly men know how to pray without ceasing, and also how to fast and pray when needed.
42. Godly men have learned to give generously, cheerfully, secretly and with wisdom.
43. Godly men are willing to be all things to all men, so that by all means they might save some.
44. Godly men have a longing to see others not only saved but also made disciples of Christ, and brought to the knowledge of the truth and to obedience to all of God's commandments (Matt.28:19, 20; 1 Tim.2:4).
45. Godly men have a longing to see a pure testimony established for God in every place.
46. Godly men have a burning passion to see Christ glorified in the church.
47. Godly men do not seek their own in any matter.
48. Godly men have spiritual authority and spiritual dignity.
49. Godly men will stand alone for God in the world, if need be.
50. Godly men are totally uncompromising like the apostles and prophets of old.
Determine with all your heart that you will be such a man of God, in the midst of a sinful and adulterous generation and a compromising Christendom.
There is no partiality with God. So, He is both eager and willing to enable you to be such a godly elder in your church.
The Danger of Phariseeism
' The greatest danger that faces any believer seeking to be godly is that of becoming a Pharisee. So, every elder must be aware of the marks of a Pharisee mentioned in the gospels. Thus he will be able protect himself from Phariseeism and also warn the members of his church of its dangers.
Some primary marks of Pharisees are listed in my booklet "Fifty Marks Of Pharisees", which can be read freely at:
These marks of the Pharisee are explained in greater detail in my larger book of the same title, which can be read freely at:https://www.cfcindia.com/books/fifty-marks-of-pharisees
THE RISE AND FALL OF SPIRITUAL MOVEMENTS
"Lord! Help! Godly men are fast disappearing. Where in all the world can dependable men be found? Everyone deceives and flatters and lies. There is no sincerity left" (Psa.12:1 - Living).
The state of affairs described in the above verse is an apt description of Christendom today. We find nowadays that even believers who were once pursuing after godliness have started indulging in deception, flattery and lies - to serve their own ends.
When people know the Bible but don't know God Himself, they can easily be deceived - because every Christian group in the world uses the Bible as its textbook and have their own proof texts to promote their peculiar doctrines. This is why even cults have mushroomed around the world in the past 150 years and become acceptable to many people. Thus many believers are being led astray and are losing their salvation.
Under the new covenant, God wants every child of His to know Him personally (Heb.8:11), unlike as in old covenant times, when only the prophet (who rarely appeared) could know God personally. In fact, the new-covenant child of God can know God better and in a more intimate way than the greatest prophet under the old covenant. Jesus said that very clearly in Matthew11:11.
There are very few believers who have a passion to know God Himself. Most believers are keen only to increase their Bible-knowledge and to have emotional experiences. That is why most of them are deceived and have no revelation on the new covenant and on building the Body of Christ.
Backsliding and Reformation
In the last days, we are told that it will be " difficult to be a Christian" (2 Tim.3:1 - Living). This will not be because of persecution, but because many "Christians" will " have only a form of godliness without its inner power" (2 Tim.3:5). In other words they will major only on correctness of doctrine - and not on personal devotion to Christ or practical godliness.
Many who left dead denominational Christianity did so because they were searching for spiritual reality. But very often, Satan has succeeded in side-tracking them, after a while, into emotionalism, legalism or compromise.
We have seen how, in the first century itself, some of the churches founded by the apostles drifted into worldliness and compromise within about 50 years after they were planted.
In the succeeding centuries since then, Christian churches backslid even further. But every now and then, God would find a wholehearted man who had a burden to restore the churches to their original standard. God would then start a reformation-movement through him.
Every reformation-movement in church-history has invariably begun with one radical man, around whom God gathered a small group of others of like mind, who would break away from the dead church they were in. The movement would gradually spread over a period of time.
The Holy Spirit has said that such divisions must take place among Christians: "There must be divisions among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you " (1 Cor.11:19).
God Himself arranges for such divisions, so as to preserve a pure testimony for His Name. When God created light in the beginning, He immediately separated the light from the darkness (Gen.1:4). And He has been doing that continuously in church history.
Dangers of Man's Approval and Prosperity
In the early days of a new movement of God, it will usually be despised and rejected by other Christians and the people in the movement are also usually poor. These factors actually make the movement safe, because the people therein will desperately seek to please God alone.
The blessing of God comes increasingly upon the movement - and then it begins to be respected by other Christians. That is when it is in danger, for the movement will then be less enthusiastic to seek the approval of God alone.
As time goes on, more and more people join the movement who are not wholehearted disciples as the first group of people were. The children within the group also grow up and become adults - and they are not as wholehearted as their parents were.
Money also begins to be more abundant as the movement grows in size and that becomes an added danger. Money is a good servant but a terrible master. Money can ruin a movement if its leaders are not constantly watchful and careful in the way it is used. Satan has used abundance of money to destroy many good movements in Christianity.
In some cases, the founder may fight this decline. But not all his co-workers see the dangers as clearly as he sees them. And so, once he dies, the movement backslides and loses its original vision. Then God has to wait until He finds another wholehearted man.
The spirituality of a movement depends on the devotion of its leaders to Christ, their humility, their sensitivity to sin, their eagerness to remain under the anointing of the Holy Spirit, their freedom from the love of money, their valuing their fellow-elders, their love for their flock and their daily walk with God.
Shepherds After God's Own Heart
In Jeremiah 3:14, 15, the Lord promises his people saying, "I will take you one from a city and two from a family and I will bring you to Zion. There I will give you shepherds after My own heart, who will feed you on knowledge and understanding ."
"Zion" here represents the true church of God. God brings one from a city and two from a family into His "Zion". And when these people come to the church that the Lord builds - He gives them " shepherds after His own heart".
One primary identifying mark of the true church of God is that it has shepherds after God's own heart.
God's heart is a heart of love - a love that never seeks its own. So, shepherds after God's own heart are those who do not seek their own in anything. Such shepherds will not seek for anyone's money or honour. They will not seek to please men or to impress them. Instead they will seek to build up believers "to present them perfect in Christ" (Col.1:28). Wherever God can find a man with such a longing - in any town or village of the world, in any generation - He will build His church through him.
On the other hand, we have seen many cases of believers who leave the mainline denominations and who seek to follow " the New Testament pattern", who end up, having all their doctrines correct, but loving money and seeking their own, and yet imagining that they are building the Body of Christ! Confusion and chaos result from their labours - and what they finally build becomes just another version of Babylon.
Only where God finds a man who does not seek his own, will He be able to build His true church. One man like that, who shares the concern of God's heart for people, is far more valuable to God than a thousand half-hearted believers who merely follow "a New Testament pattern".
To be a shepherd after God's own heart will involve sacrifice, inconvenience, and suffering. It will mean being willing to suffer misunderstanding, opposition, ridicule and slander joyfully. And if such a shepherd is blessed enough to have a wife who also does not seek her own, so that their home is open for the Lord to do whatever He wants, then there will be no limit to what God can do through such a couple.
I am not talking now about gathering many people. I am talking now about the quality of the people gathered. Numbers are never a mark of God's blessing. Many cults and false religions have millions of members. That proves nothing.
In Jesus' time, He looked around and saw that people were like sheep without a shepherd. It is the same today. The great need everywhere is for shepherds after God's own heart.
The history of Israel has been given to us at such length in the Old Testament to show us the mistakes they made - so that we can avoid them. A wise man will learn from Israel's history how to avoid drifting away from God.
The Times of Joshua and David
Joshua was a godly man who gave excellent leadership to Israel when they entered Canaan. He was determined to follow the Lord with his whole family, even if the rest of Israel decided to forsake the Lord (Josh.24:15). Only such a man, who is willing to stand alone if necessary, can provide godly leadership to any church today. During Joshua's lifetime, Israel went forward from one victory to another.
But then Joshua died. In what followed thereafter, we can see what happens when a man whom God has raised up at a particular time for a particular purpose in a particular country finishes his earthly course and passes on.
We read in the book of Judges how Israel declined. The second generation survived on the momentum that they had received from Joshua's leadership for a brief while. And then they fell into idolatry. In Joshua's time, Israel was like a train being pulled by a powerful engine up a hill. When Joshua died, the engine was disconnected. There was no other engine thereafter. So the train slowed down and finally stopped and rolled down to the bottom of the hill - and crashed!
The same thing happened in David's time.
Saul was the first king of Israel. He had started in great humility, but backslid so greatly that God removed the anointing from him. Saul's life is a picture of those movements that decline in the first generation itself - and there are many like that also in Christendom!
God told Saul through Samuel that He was now going to give the kingdom to "a man after God's own heart" (1 Sam.13:14). That was David. This made Saul extremely jealous of David. Saul hated David so much that he even wanted to kill him.
Those in Israel however, who recognised where God's anointing lay, joined David. Thus a small group gathered around David. But they were chased and persecuted and hunted by Saul all across the land and they had to run for their lives. But God was with that small group.
Saul however continued to sit on the throne of Israel for many years - just like many backslidden Christian "leaders" rule their flock today, even though they lost the anointing of God many years ago. Saul had a large following of people who fawned on him - just like many Christian "leaders" today have in their own groups. Such a large following means nothing, for God is not with them. Even non-Christian religious leaders have large followings.
Church history has proved again and again that God has always done His greatest work in every generation through a small minority of His people who stand wholeheartedly for Him. Such a group is hated, misunderstood and persecuted by the established systems in Christendom, who have no understanding of what God is doing in their time (just like Saul persecuted David).
God protected David and his little group and he ruled as king of Israel for 40 years. It is written about his rule that he " served the purpose of God in his own generation" (Acts 13:36).
We notice there that David could serve God's purpose only in his own generation.
After his death, things began to decline very quickly. Solomon, his son, backslid very badly - and ended disastrously. Initially, he had moved forward on the momentum he had received from his godly father. But he did not have enough of a passion for God, to continue for long in the same direction. He was led astray by wealth and women (1 Kings 10:23; 11:1-9) - just like many Christian preachers in our time!
The same story of decline that we saw in the history of David and Solomon has been repeated again and again in Christendom. Just examine carefully any movement or Christian denomination that started with God and that is currently in its second or later generation - and you will see the truth of what I am saying.
Why does this happen? The answer is simple: Because those believers are taken up with the letter of Scripture more than with the Person of Jesus Christ. When any doctrine becomes more important than personal devotion to Christ, then spiritual decline, self-righteousness and Phariseeism are invariably the result.
The Church at Ephesus
Consider now the history of the church at Ephesus. The apostle Paul stayed there for three years, preaching night and day teaching them " the whole purpose of God" (Acts 20:27-31). So the Ephesian Christians heard many hundreds of sermons from Paul. They had also seen extraordinary miracles wrought by the Lord in their midst (Acts 19:11). From their midst, the word of God had spread to all the surrounding parts of Asia Minor during a short period of two years. They had experienced revival (Acts 19:10, 19). They were the most privileged of all the churches in apostolic times; and undoubtedly the most spiritual church in Asia Minor at that time. We can see that from Paul's letter to the Ephesians, where he had to correct no error in their midst, unlike the way he had to, in the other churches to which he wrote.
But when Paul was leaving Ephesus, he warned the elders saying, "I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them" (Acts 20:29, 30).
As long as Paul was there, no wolf had dared to enter the flock at Ephesus, because Paul was a very strict doorkeeper who had spiritual authority from the Lord (See Mark 13:34). But he also had discernment to see that the elders there were not as devoted to the Lord as he was. And so he knew that things would deteriorate very quickly once he left, and they took over the leadership of the church.
Paul was not giving the elders a prophecy of what would happen at Ephesus when he warned them about the wolves coming in. No. It was only a warning. It did not have to happen as he predicted - if the elders would only judge themselves and repent. Jonah prophesied the destruction of Nineveh. But it did not happen as he predicted, because the people of Nineveh repented. The church at Ephesus also would have escaped the fate that Paul predicted if they had repented. But those elders did not take Paul's warning seriously and so they drifted away from the Lord.
Fifty years later, things had become really bad in the church at Ephesus. Their doctrines were still correct and they were zealous in Christian activity. They probably still had their all-night prayer meetings and their special meetings. But their spiritual state was so bad that the Lord was about to remove His recognition of them as a church. What was their crime? They had lost their devotion to the Lord (Rev.2:4, 5).
What does the history of this church at Ephesus teach us? Just this - that no doctrine or religious activity is as important as fervent devotion to the Lord Himself. There is one and only one mark of true spirituality: the life of Jesus being manifested increasingly in our life. And this can come only through an increasing personal devotion to the Lord Himself.
Paul was a godly man - a fervent and faithful apostle who was devoted to the Lord Jesus until the very end of his life. And he warned believers everywhere that Satan would try every means possible to turn them away from "simple devotion to Christ" (2 Cor.11:3).
The First Generation and the Second
We see that even Paul could serve God's purpose only in his own generation. A few who lived with him, like Timothy, imbibed his spirit and lived in selfless devotion to Christ (Phil.2:19-21). But otherwise, Paul could not transmit his spirituality to the second generation of believers in the churches he had founded. They had to know God themselves.
In the history of Christendom, we see that every godly reformer sent by God to bring Christendom back to Him could serve God's purpose only in his own generation.
God raises up a godly man in a country, in a particular generation, to restore to the church in that country, the truth that the apostles preached, and thus to lead people there to a godly life. A movement gradually starts around him and a few wholehearted believers who are fed up with the unreality and hypocrisy of the Christendom of their generation gather around him. Very soon a pure testimony is established for the Lord.
Such a group is always small in size at the beginning and intensely hated and persecuted by the older churches and in most cases they are poor. The founder is hated most of all. And the hatred is usually most intense from the group that God had raised up in the previous generation - for the current leaders of that group, not realising that the Lord has left them, are jealous of the new group! Satan too joins in the attack against this new group - and he does his work of accusation mostly through other "believers" from the older group.
But all the persecution and the scheming of men and demons do not hinder God from establishing a pure testimony for His Name in the new generation through the man He raised up.
But what happens when the founder dies? In almost every case, his followers in the next generation place greater emphasis on the doctrines their leader taught them and not on his devotion to Christ. The form of godliness becomes all-important and the power of godliness is ignored. Thus decline and decay sets in.
By the time such movements reach their third generation, the corruption and the decay within the group becomes total. The group thereafter bears no resemblance to the godliness and spirituality that their founder had. They proclaim the same doctrines he did and glory in his name - but they build Babylon.
A group can start as a spiritual movement, but still end up as soulish and carnal. In fact, a movement started by a man of God can even end up one day as a cult!
No doctrine, however important or good, can ever take the place of devotion to Jesus Himself.
The founders of all these spiritual movements knew the Lord. The second generation knew only the founder and the doctrines he preached.
One of the commonest things that happens to every movement is that by the time it reaches the second generation, it has become rich and prosperous, with the members owning plenty of money, houses and lands etc. And wealth has a way of being accompanied by pride, self-sufficiency and complacency - for very few believers know how to handle wealth in the right way.
The first generation of a movement usually struggles in poverty and is close to God. The second generation is usually closer to the world, with all its wealth - and thus loses out spiritually. God then withdraws from that group, and it becomes a part of Babylon.
This has happened to every reformation movement in church-history. And each time, after the first reformation backslides, God has had to raise up another man elsewhere, to bring about another reformation. This "death and resurrection" process is what has happened again and again in Christian history. And that is how God has preserved a small but pure testimony for His Name on earth at all times.
Those who are wise will therefore look around them to see where the anointing of God is resting currently - in their own generation - and associate fully with such a church. They will not care to know where the anointing had rested in previous generations. They will look to see where God is moving now and not where God moved a generation or two ago.
Scripture tells us very clearly that we must "avoid those who have the mere form of godliness" (2 Tim.3:5) and seek to fellowship only with "those who call on the Lord from a pure heart" (2 Tim.2:22). Those who have a pure heart are those who love the Lord with all their heart. Such believers are not longing for more money, or comfort, or honour. They are devoted to the Lord Himself and not to any doctrine. We are urged to seek fellowship with such believers at all times.
Thus God's work proceeds from one generation to the next, without ever failing - for in every generation the Lord raises up men who are devoted to Him. Thus, all the machinations of Satan are unable to hinder God's purposes.
Simeon prophesied concerning Jesus, saying, "He will set up a standard that many will attack. Thus He will expose the secret thoughts of their hearts " (Luke 2:34, 35 - J. B. Phillips paraphrase).
Much that we have said in this book and the standards we have proclaimed here will provoke some to criticize us. So, in conclusion, let me say this: When people criticized and attacked Jesus for the high standard of life that He preached, they didn't realize that by their actions and words they were actually revealing the inner state of their own corrupt hearts - in a way that would never have taken place if Jesus had not come into their midst.
When Jesus was teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum once, a demon-possessed man began to cry out. The demon in that man had been peaceful and quiet during all the many years that the Pharisees had preached in that synagogue. But the moment Jesus came and preached, the man's inner condition was exposed (Mark 1:21-27).
The inner condition and attitude of people's hearts were always exposed, whenever Jesus came into their midst.
All the religious rulers in the synagogues appeared to be holy in the eyes of the people. But when Jesus came into their midst, their deceptive external appearance was stripped away and they were shown to be hypocrites and deceivers.
When Jesus once came into the midst of a group of Pharisees who wanted to stone a woman caught in adultery, their inner heart-attitudes were exposed immediately (John 8:3-11). They wanted to find some ground to accuse Jesus (John 8:6). But Jesus told them that the one who was without sin alone could throw the first stone. Immediately the inner condition of their hearts was exposed - and they all had to walk away, "beginning with the older ones"! The senior Pharisees are always the biggest hypocrites!
There we see that God used even a woman's sin to expose the wickedness of those who accused her - as soon as Jesus came into their midst.
If we don't heed the word of Jesus speaking to our hearts today saying, " Don't condemn others. Let the one who is without sin throw the first stone ", we too can end up with that crowd of Pharisees finally, and be cast away from Jesus' presence eternally. It is always best to leave all judgment with God, the only Righteous Judge.
Pilate looked like an all-powerful ruler who was afraid of no-one and cared for no-one's opinion. But when Jesus stood before him and spoke to him, Pilate was immediately exposed for what he really was. Even though he knew that Jesus was innocent, he still handed Him over to the people to be crucified. Thus Pilate stood exposed as a coward who was afraid of people's opinions.
In all these cases, we see that the opposition of people to Jesus revealed their own inner condition - thus fulfilling the prophecy of Simeon (above).
Today we who are members of the Body of Christ are to fulfil this same ministry that the first Body of Christ (Jesus Himself) fulfilled.
When carnal Christians today criticize us for proclaiming the same high standard of life that Jesus preached, those critics don't realize that they are actually revealing the carnality of their own hearts thereby - in a way that would never have happened if we had not come into their midst proclaiming the new-covenant standard.
To give just one example: We proclaim that " Jesus and the apostles are our examples in financial matters. There was a heavenly dignity about them and so they never once asked anyone for money for their own needs or for their ministry. They asked believers only to help the poor" .
Carnal preachers and pastors will immediately question this standard of God's Word that we proclaim, and quote the example of the Levites under the old covenant. Thus the following secret thoughts of their hearts are exposed:
(1) Their disregard for this New Testament standard in financial matters.
(2) Their unbelief in God's ability to provide for them.
(3) Their ignorance of the fact that the old covenant has been abolished and that Jesus and His apostles are our examples now, and not the Levites (Heb.8:7-13; 12:1, 2; 1 Cor.11:1; Phil.3:17).
And that is just one example. There are many more.
We should not be surprised then, if we are opposed (like Jesus Himself was), by religious leaders and preachers in our day. We carry out the same ministry that the first Body of Christ (Jesus) fulfilled on earth 20 centuries ago. And the result will also be the same: God will use the opposition of people to our message to reveal the carnality of their hearts.
Sometimes God uses even the sufferings of His people to expose the inner heart-condition of others. God used the sufferings that Job went through to expose the self-righteousness and hard-heartedness of the three preachers who came and preached to him (Job 1 to 42).
When Jesus suffered, hanging on the cross, the inner thoughts of many people were revealed. The passers-by mocked Him - and thereby revealed the corruption of their hearts. On the other hand, one Roman soldier's inner sincerity was also revealed, when he declared that Jesus was the Son of God. The inner heart of one crucified thief was revealed as corrupt - and he went to hell; while the inner heart of the other crucified thief was revealed as truly repentant - and he entered paradise.
In Mark 3:2, we read that when Jesus came to a synagogue one day, His enemies were so angry with Him that they "watched Him closely" to find something to criticize. Modern-day Pharisees also watch the lives of upright believers very closely to find some fault that they can criticize.
The angrier you are with someone, or jealous of him, the more closely you are likely to watch his life, to find some fault in him. There may indeed be some trivial fault in his life, or in his home, or in his family (as there are in all people). But God uses those trivial faults in His servants to expose the wickedness of those who judge them.
The Lord says, "Among my people are wicked men who lurk for victims like a hunter hiding in a blind. They set their traps to catch men. Their homes are full of evil plots....... Should I sit back and act as though nothing is going on?" (Jer.5:26, 29 - Living).
At one time, the Pharisees, " plied Jesus with a host of questions, trying to trap Him into saying something for which they could have Him arrested " (Luke 11:54 - Living). On another occasion, " they sent other religious leaders to talk with Him to try and trap Him " (Mark 12:13 - Living).
The descendants of those Pharisees "who watch others closely" and ply God's servants with questions (to trap them) are found in abundance in Christendom today. So we must be "wise as serpents", as we move in their midst, "as lambs in the midst of wolves" (Matt.10:16).
One of the quickest ways for anyone to becomea first-class Pharisee is by " watching other believers closely". If you want to avoid being a Pharisee, finish once and for all with that habit - for that is never done with a good motive, to help people, but only with a view to find fault with them.
Mercy is a great antidote to Phariseeism. So let us learn to be merciful to others just as God has been merciful to us.
When Jesus walked on this earth, the love and mercy and goodness of God were manifested through His life.
Today, we too can be filled with the Holy Spirit (the Spirit of Christ), so that, that same love, mercy and goodness can be manifested through our lives as well (as promised in Rom.5:5).
May it be so in all of our lives.