6 – The Ministry Produced through Revelation and Suffering, Part Two: Suffering (4)

From chapter six of The Ministers in the Lord’s Recovery – Genuine Ministers of the New Covenant


External Opposition and Internal Dissension Authenticating the New Testament Ministry

Contrary to the adage that asserts that where there is smoke there must also be fire, opposition does not invalidate a minister of the new covenant but actually forms part of his qualification. Even a cursory survey of the ministries of the Lord Jesus and the apostle Paul makes abundantly clear that the lives of new testament ministers are marked by persecution, not only from the Gentiles but all the more from religious persons and even the ministers’ intimate friends. The Lord Jesus, unequivocally the most qualified minister of the new covenant, was rejected by the Jews, God’s beloved elect. He “came to His own, yet those who were His own did not receive Him” (John 1:11). The Pharisees defamed the Lord Jesus as being in league with Beelzebul, the ruler of demons (Matt. 12:24), and the Jews said that He Himself was demon-possessed and insane (John 8:48; 10:20). The Lord’s words in Luke 4:23-27 provoked such hatred that the congregants in the synagogue attempted to kill Him (vv. 28-29). But eventually it was one of the twelve, one whom the Lord Jesus addressed as “friend,” who betrayed Him, and that with a kiss (Matt. 26:48-50). It was not profane Romans who bought Judas’ wicked service but the esteemed leaders of the Jewish religion. It was deeply religious people who arrested Jesus, judged Him, took counsel against Him to put Him to death, delivered Him to an imperial governor, falsely accused Him, and ultimately persuaded the crowds to call for His crucifixion (Matt. 26vv. 3-5, 47-68; 27:1-2, 18-26). And when the Lord was arrested, His close and beloved disciple Peter denied Him, while all His own abandoned Him in the very hour of trial (26:55-56, 69-75). Knowing that all of this was to transpire, the Lord Jesus warned His disciples of the persecution that would befall those who followed Him: “It is sufficient for the disciple that he become like his teacher, and the slave like his master. If they have called the Master of the house Beelzebul, how much more those of His household!” (10:25). The apostles would be “hated by all,” delivered up to sanhedrins, and scourged in synagogues (vv. 17, 22; 23:34). The Lord foretold that just as the religious world had hated and persecuted Him, so also it would hate and persecute the disciples, even considering this persecution a service to God (John 15:18-25; 16:2; 17:14; 1 John 3:13). The Lord’s prophecy was fulfilled numerous times in Acts (Acts 4:1-3; 5:17-18, 40; 6:11-14; 7:57-59; 26:9-12). Virtually everywhere the apostle Paul went for the carrying out of his ministry, he was persecuted—not primarily by the Gentiles but by religious figures in the Sanhedrin and the synagogues. Furthermore, even Paul’s own co-workers and spiritual children forsook him. Barnabas, who had brought the apostle Paul into his ministry and labored as a fellow apostle with him for a period of time (9:26-27; 11:25-26; 13:2; 14:14), dissented with Paul and separated from him, going his own way while Paul went on in the ministry (15:36-41). According to 2 Timothy, when Paul faced imminent martyrdom, Demas, one of his co-workers, abandoned him because he loved the present age (2 Tim. 4:10; Philem. 24). Even those who had been raised up in Christ under Paul’s ministry abandoned him. Under the leadership of Phygelus and Hermogenes, the believers in Asia, who had formerly received Paul’s ministry, forsook him (2 Tim. 1:15). Alexander the coppersmith did many evil things against Paul, greatly opposing his ministry (4:14-15). At the time of Paul’s first defense, none of the believers in Rome were with him to support him, but all abandoned him (v. 16). In brief, just as the Lord Jesus was mocked, blasphemed, counted as nothing, and shamefully executed as a criminal (Mark 9:12; 15:29-32; Phil. 2:8; Deut. 21:22-23; Heb. 12:2), so also Paul and his fellow apostles were dishonored, reviled, persecuted, and defamed, becoming “a spectacle to the world,” “the offscouring of the world, the scum of all things” (1 Cor. 4:9-13). The fact that both the Lord Jesus and the apostle Paul were opposed by Judaism and forsaken by many of their followers does not nullify or devalue their ministry. On the contrary, it manifested their approvedness in being faithful and obedient to God (Matt. 26:39; Phil. 2:8; Rom. 6:19; Heb. 5:8; Rev. 1:5; 3:14; 1 Cor. 7:25;1 Tim. 1:12). Likewise, opposition from organized Christianity and dissension from those within the local churches neither invalidates nor diminishes the integrity of the ministry in the Lord’s recovery. Instead, they prove its genuineness as a faithful continuation of the ministry of the despised, hated, and persecuted Jesus of Nazareth, as well as that of the apostle Paul, who went forth outside the camp of religion, bearing His reproach (Heb. 13:13). The rejection that Brother Nee and Brother Lee suffered only served to broaden their vision of the divine economy, deepen their experience of Christ, and enrich their ministry of life. Indeed, it is against this backdrop of rejection and persecution that the glorious vision of God’s economy that Brother Nee and Brother Lee faithfully released shines all the more brilliantly. Because Brother Nee and Brother Lee possessed genuine ministry formed and enriched by high revelations of Christ and immense “afflictions of Christ” (Col. 1:24-29), their speaking was not empty “sounding brass” or “a clanging cymbal,” both of which give sounds without imparting life (1 Cor. 13:1). Rather, they were sufficient ministers of the unsearchably rich Christ as the life-giving Spirit (Rom. 15:16; Eph. 3:8; 2 Cor. 3:6). Many saints with a measure of spiritual discernment can testify that our brothers, whether in their public ministry or in times of personal fellowship, touched the depths of their being, speaking words that resonated with their spirit and effected a genuine change in their Christian life. This is because their messages were drawn from the depths of their being that had been thoroughly constituted with the very Christ who had made His home in their heart and been formed in them (Eph. 3:18; Gal. 4:19). The impact of their ministry of the word is aptly described by the psalmist’s words: “Deep calls unto deep.” Regrettably, the effect of the sermons given by many preachers in today’s Christianity is characterized by shallowness (cf. Mark 4:5; Matt. 13:5, 21). Because their preaching issues from the exercise of either natural talent or a spiritual gift devoid of spiritual depth, it can affect others only in a superficial way. Even though their preaching may feed the infants in Christ with the milk of the word (1 Cor. 3:1-2; 1 Pet. 2:2), it cannot reach the hidden depths of the seeking believers who hunger for “solid food,” the healthy teaching of God’s eternal economy that nourishes their inner man for them to arrive “at a full-grown man” (Psa. 51:6; Heb. 5:12; 1 Tim. 1:3-4, 10; Eph. 4:13). In contrast, when we hear or read messages given by Brother Nee and Brother Lee, we have a clear witness in our spirit that this is the genuine ministry worthy of our close following: the mature ministry of Christ who has been deeply experienced, enjoyed, and expressed by the minister through suffering and intense pressure, which ministry is well able to perfect us and feed us with solid food for us to “be brought unto maturity” in life and “presented full-grown in Christ” (Rom. 8:16; 2 Tim. 3:10; 1 Tim. 4:6; 1 Cor. 3:2; Heb. 5:11—6:1).

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