From chapter five of The Ministers in the Lord’s Recovery – Genuine Ministers of the New Covenant
Ministry Produced through Revelation Plus Suffering
Second Corinthians reveals another—and very personal—characteristic of the new covenant ministry: it is the product of revelation plus sufferings. Though revelation may come suddenly (Acts 9:3-6), ministry does not immediately follow. This is because ministry requires the believers to grow in the divine life and is formed not only by receiving “revelations of the Lord” but also experiencing “the sufferings of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:1; 12:1; 1:5; 1 Cor. 3:1-2, 5-7). Hence, ministry differs from gift or teaching. Balaam’s donkey suddenly spoke with human language; this was certainly a miraculous gift but certainly did not qualify as ministry (Num. 22:28-30). God does entrusts the revelation of His mystery, “the stewardship of God,” not to believers who merely possess some gift but to those who have a ministry (1 Cor. 9:17; Col. 1:25; 1 Tim. 1:11-12). These ministers are “chosen vessel[s]” to the Lord (Acts 9:15) to whom He shows not only glorious visions of Christ (vv. 3-6, 17; 26:16) but also “how many things [they] must suffer on behalf of [His] name” (9:16). The suffering that follows the revelations produces endurance and approvedness in the apostles (Rom. 5:3-4; 1 Thes. 2:4) and brings about a weighty and glorious expression of the God of resurrection in their very being and their daily living (2 Cor. 1:9 4:11,17)—a manifestation of the divine, heavenly, powerful treasure in human, earthly, weak vessels (vv. 1, 7). The issue of their suffering is life ministered to and operating in the saints (v. 12) and grace and thanksgiving abounding in the church unto the glory of God (v. 15). How much greater is ministry than gift or teaching!
The genuine ministry, which is produced through revelation plus suffering, is seen clearly in the pattern of the apostle Paul. From his conversion Paul, a Pharisee trained at the feet of Gamaliel and exceedingly knowledgeable in the letter of the Old Testament, received the revelation concerning Christ as the centrality and universality of God’s economy (Col. 1:17, 25-28; 3:10-11; Eph. 3:8-11). This revelation became the content of Paul’s ministry (vv. 2-5). In fact, Paul identified his gospel, which he received through a revelation by Jesus Christ (Gal. 1:12), as the proclamation of Jesus Christ according to the revelation of the mystery (Rom. 16:25). This mystery is principally of two aspects: Christ as the mystery of God and the church as the mystery of Christ (Col. 2:2; Eph. 3:4-6; Matt. 16:16-18). But authentic ministry is not merely the passing on of a teaching, knowledge, or even a revelation but an expression of what we are in Christ; it is a manifestation of the Son of God as the gospel who has been not only revealed in us but also formed in us (Gal. 1:16; 4:19). Without revelation Paul would have had nothing to minister; however, in order for what was revealed to him to be wrought into him to become his ministry, Paul needed to pass through many sufferings. Just as a painted pattern is made one with a porcelain vase through intense heat, so also the revelation given to Paul was “burned” into him through severe suffering for the purpose of bringing forth genuine ministry. Therefore, Paul needed the revelation he received to be burned and constituted into him by suffering. Ministry is costly. How much a believer is able to minister the riches of Christ to others—not merely teach them about Christ—depends not only on the amount of revelation he has received but also the extent to which he has suffered for what has been revealed to him. While suffering of itself is not a sign of ministry, proclaiming the revelation of God’s New Testament economy coupled with suffering is. Conversely, the absence of suffering indicates a lack of genuine, faithful ministry.
Whereas much preaching in traditional Christianity is primarily a matter of gift, which is shallow and often comes with little price, the ministry of Brother Nee and Brother Lee is most costly and precious because it was formed through profound revelation14 accompanied by immense suffering. This chapter will cover the scriptural revelations received by Brother Nee and Brother Lee, and the following chapter will cover the sufferings in the apostle Paul’s ministry and in the ministry of Brother Nee and Brother Lee. These two chapters should be read and considered together, for neither revelation alone nor suffering alone is sufficient to produce ministry. Both are indispensable for bringing forth genuine ministry.
14 The Greek word translated revelation in the New Testament (ἀποκάλυψις) literally means “the opening, the lifting, of a veil”; its intrinsic meaning pertains to the spiritual significance of the Scriptures concerning the Triune God, His full salvation, and His eternal economy (Matt. 28:19; 2 Cor. 13:14; Rom. 5:10; Eph. 1:10; 3:9). To receive revelation does not mean to see something further than what is recorded in the Bible. We believe that the Bible contains the completed divine revelation (cf. Col. 1:25), beyond which there is no further revelation of God. The last chapter of Revelation severely warns against adding anything to or taking anything away from the Word of God (22:18-19), making it nothing less than blasphemy for anyone to proclaim a so-called revelation outside that which has been written in the Bible. Genuine revelations concern the intrinsic significance of the Scriptures concerning the all-inclusive Christ as the embodiment of the Triune God, who is realized as the Spirit (Luke 24:27, 32, 44-45; Acts 28:23; Gal. 1:15-16; Col. 2:9; 2 Cor. 3:17; cf. Neh. 8:13), and concerning the church as the Body of Christ, the organism of the Triune God (Eph. 1:22-23; 3:16-19; 4:4-6; Col. 1:18, 24; 2:19; 1 Cor. 12:12-13). Such revelations are received from the Lord through the enlightenment of the divine Spirit in the believers’ regenerated human spirit, “a spirit of wisdom and revelation,” as they prayerfully read and carefully study the Bible in fellowship with God, turning their heart to the Lord and exercising their spirit to contact the Lord Spirit (1 Cor. 2:9-16; Eph. 1:17; 3:4-5; 6:17-18; Rev. 1:10; 4:2; 17:3; 21:10; 2 Cor. 3:14-18; 13:14; 2 Tim. 2:23).
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