Audrey Chan―Leicester, U.K.
God’s will is that we live a
useful life, to serve Him by carrying out the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor
5:18) and shepherding His household (Acts 20:28). These two things are, in a
nutshell, the key works appointed by God for His church. They are mammoth responsibilities,
requiring obedience and reliance on God. For this reason, He needs a special workforce—one
where the workers have prepared themselves for service through a process of emptying
themselves and cultivating the right spiritual disposition. Through His Holy
Spirit, God equips these workers by giving them the power, spiritual gifts, and
guidance that they need.
In the Bible, we see a commonality
among God’s faithful workers: they were invariably people who emptied
themselves, making room for God to use them. And they conducted their lives in
a way that demonstrated this higher purpose. We see this attitude in Noah’s obedience
to God’s commission to build the ark; Abraham’s willingness to depart from Ur for
Canaan; Moses heeding God to deliver the Israelites out of Egypt and leading
them on an epic forty-year journey through the wilderness; and Joseph’s patient
and silent wait for God to show His hand while incarcerated in an Egyptian
prison. All these examples stem from a clear understanding of their relationship
with God and a willingness to submit to His will—what He wanted them to do and
where He wanted them to go. They were truly able to walk humbly with their God (Mic 6:8–9).
With the right mindset, God’s
workers see life for what it really is—a short and temporary journey to a
better place (Heb 11:9–10). Hence, they have a discerning attitude towards the personal
assets they may or may not have in this lifetime—be it learning, wealth, or
social standing. They understand that these are of little or no consequence in
the grand scheme of things, and, certainly, they are not defined by them.
Paul was once a learned Pharisee
with standing and authority in the Jewish community, but he put all this aside once
he came to know Christ and began to serve Him.
Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the
knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all
things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ. (Phil 3:8)
Such was Paul’s conviction that he
was willing to pay a high price to serve His master: sufferings, persecution,
imprisonments, beatings, and dangers to his life (2 Cor 11:23–28). In the end,
as history indicates, he even died for Christ. Paul’s life was one of total
submission and dedication.
The ultimate example, however, is
Let this mind be in you which
was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it
robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the
form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in
appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of
death, even the death of the cross.
Jesus purposely emptied Himself of
His divine privileges to come to this world as a man to bring salvation. He
swapped His heavenly glory for a lowly upbringing in a carpenter’s household; a
ministry filled with toil, tribulation and ultimately, death on a cross. He did
this obediently to accomplish the ministry of reconciliation for the heavenly
Emptying ourselves entails
self-denial, something that is counter-intuitive in this age where the emphasis
is on personal needs and wishes. However, this is the secret to serving God well
and a pre-requisite for obedience and submission. When we put ourselves to one
side, we remove barriers and open ourselves to God, letting Him use us as He
sees fit. This can be difficult to do, and perhaps even more so when we feel we
have a lot to give up (Mk 10:21–23).
Today, many believers are blessed
with a high standard of education, income, living, social standing, and so
forth. However, when we are called to serve God, can we empty ourselves to work
humbly? Are we willing to serve others, or do we desire to be served? Do we
undertake whatever tasks come our way, or do we pick and choose? Do we listen
to others, or do we demand to be listened to? Do we set the agenda, or do we
allow God to guide instead?
Emptying ourselves also entails shifting
our focus away from ourselves on to God. By the time that God chose Moses to
deliver the Israelites, the once impetuous Egyptian prince was living as a refugee
in the wilderness, with only the livestock in his care for company. The years
had turned Moses into a person who could only see his inadequacies
and who felt unequal to God’s great commission to lead Israel out of Egypt (cf.
Ex 4:10). He thought that he would have to rely on his own ability, but God
explained otherwise: God would be with him and empower him (Ex 3:11–12). From
then on, Moses learned to truly empty himself—to look away from himself and on
to God. As a result, God was able to use him mightily to change the fortune of
a whole nation.
Today, when we fail to empty
ourselves, we will make the mistake of assessing our own ability (or lack thereof)
to undertake God’s work. We forget that the work belongs to God, and that He is
the one who will equip the workers.
CULTIVATE THE CHARACTER OF A GOOD SERVANT
But in a great house there are
not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay, some for honor
and some for dishonor. Therefore if anyone cleanses himself from the latter, he
will be a vessel for honor, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for
every good work. (2 Tim 2:20–21)
God has high standards: He requires
vessels of honor, fit for His purpose. According to Paul, we can actively strive
to be vessels of honor through spiritual cultivation, by removing lusts and
pursuing righteousness, faith, love, peace, and by avoiding arguments and
strife (2 Tim 2:21–24). Paul adds that a good servant is one who is gentle and
The best way to reach God’s
standard is through consistent and proactive spiritual cultivation. This is how
we can attain to the character and mind of Christ (1 Cor 2:16). This is essential
for the growth of the church, as it enables the workers to see and approach church
work as Jesus would.
On a personal level, cultivation
enables us to be in a state of readiness for doing God’s work. And even if trials
should come our way, as they often do—be it an adverse environment or
opposition—we will be in a better spiritual state to overcome them. Conversely,
if we fail to do the groundwork, even a minor difficulty will become a painful challenge,
discouraging us from continuing to serve.
We all know what cultivation
entails; it is really a matter of whether we have the resolve and self-discipline
to do it consistently. Sometimes, we become so busy juggling life and church
work that we compromise our spiritual cultivation. We devote less time to prayers,
we skip daily Bible reading, and in church, we become so distracted by a myriad
of tasks that we barely have time to sit through a service or give the sermon
our full attention. And if this persists over a period of time, it will impact our
spiritual well-being, and this will show in our behavior.
How many of us have the experience
of being more impatient and short-tempered with others when we fail to allow
God’s word and the Holy Spirit to cleanse and renew us? The carnal nature has a
way of surfacing insidiously. This is bad for us, and if we continue down this
slippery slope, our very salvation may be jeopardized. Hence, Paul speaks of
the need to discipline ourselves in the course of working for God (1 Cor 9:27).
Furthermore, the emergence of the carnal
nature is bad for our working relationships with others. Indeed, it underpins a
host of problems. Arguments, murmurings, divisions, jealousies, and power
struggles are all symptoms of a failure to curb the carnal nature (Gal
5:16–21). Instead of building up the church, our attitude and behavior may
unwittingly create problems. Hence, Paul exhorts us to put off the old nature
and to be renewed, that is, to have a new mindset that is righteous and holy (Eph
4:22–32), by relying on the Holy Spirit.
GIFTS OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
God is gracious and does not leave
His workers to be without help. When God instructed Moses to build the
tabernacle with all its ornate furnishings, God selected His workers and equipped
them for the work:
Then the Lord spoke
to Moses, saying: ‘See, I have called by name Bezalel
the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of
Judah. And I have filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom, in
understanding, in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship, to
design artistic works, to work in gold, in silver, in bronze, in cutting
jewels for setting, in carving wood, and to work in all manner
of workmanship. And I, indeed I, have appointed with him Aholiab the son of Ahisamach, of
the tribe of Dan; and I have put wisdom in the hearts of all the gifted
artisans, that they may make all that I have commanded you.’
The interesting point is how God’s
Spirit built up His workforce. Bezalel, Aholiab, and the artisans already had the basic skills for
the work God had in mind (Ex 28:3–4; 35:10–11; 36:1–2)—the raw materials, as it
were. But for this monumental task, God knew they needed spiritual gifts.
Therefore, He filled these workers with His Spirit so that they had special wisdom,
knowledge, and enhanced skills. For Bezalel and Aholiab, God’s Spirit also endowed them with the ability to
teach the rest of the artisans so that, together, they could implement God’s
intricate design (Ex 35:34). This was important as the work had to be done to
exact standards and in a coordinated way.
In God’s church today, which is
the body of Christ, God’s arrangement is no different.
There are diversities of gifts,
but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same
Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who
works all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one
for the profit of all: for to one is given the word of wisdom through
the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, to
another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same
Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to
another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to
another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works
all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills.
The gifts of the Holy Spirit
mentioned here are not meant to be an exhaustive list, for we see that Paul
goes on to talk about other gifts and roles in the church (see for example, 1
Cor 12:28). However, once again, we should take note of the gifts of wisdom and
knowledge mentioned and their importance for church work.
Today, the church will more than
likely have at her disposal, workers with diverse skills acquired through the
education system, the world of work, and life experiences. They may be skillful
in administration, planning and management, finance, pedagogy, customer service,
cooking, and so forth. Some of these skills can be useful for church work, but not
all, as God’s work is different from secular work. Importantly, God knows His
church best, including what she needs in order to grow. Therefore, if God wills,
He can choose to work with whatever human talent there is in the church and to enhance
it by the power of His Spirit, adding wisdom, knowledge, and faith. Or else, if
God decides that the church would benefit from different skills, He has the
prerogative to bestow new gifts to the workers. In this way, God can equip and
grow His church in any way that He sees fit.
It is not surprising, then, that
Jesus told His disciples to wait for the power from on high prior to the
establishment of the church:
And being assembled together
with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to
wait for the Promise of the Father, “which,” He said, “you have
heard from Me. (Acts 1:4)
The work of preaching the gospel, baptizing
people, and caring for the members could not be accomplished or sustained by human
effort and raw talent alone: the commission and challenges facing the early
church were greater than the sum of her workers. God’s work had need of members
who were adequately equipped by the wisdom, power, and gifts of the Holy
Spirit. God would be their guiding, driving, and sustaining force. With man’s
effort and resources alone, the work would be in danger of digressing or
It is with good reason that the key
requirements for God’s servants are to be filled with the Holy Spirit and with
wisdom (Acts 6:3). God’s principles do not change: in the Old Testament time,
God filled the workers commissioned to build the tabernacle with His Spirit and
wisdom; today, God does the same for those who are building His church. Through
the Holy Spirit, God bestows all manner of spiritual gifts, apportioning them as
He sees fit (1 Cor 12:11). He does this for the “profit of all” (1 Cor 12:7)—that
is, for the benefit of the church as a whole. Hence, when we look around, we
see this wonderful arrangement: God provides us with a talented workforce that
is just right for our church at a local, national, and even international
level. That is God’s good planning and design.
To do the work, we need a heart
that is willing and motivated to do God’s work, just like the artisans in the
time of Moses (Ex 36:2). God will then grant us the spiritual gifts we need
while we faithfully serve. Amazingly, the Bible reveals that the more we do and
the more faithful we are, the more spiritual gifts God will bestow upon us (Mt
25:29). However, we need to remember, it is never for our own glory and embellishment
but for God’s glory.
HEEDING THE HOLY SPIRIT
In the True Jesus Church, we are
blessed with the abidance of the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit who guides and
directs us in the way we should serve. However, we need to be close to God in
order to hear His voice. For this reason, Paul exhorts us to pray unceasingly
in the Spirit (Eph 6:18) and to be filled with the Holy Spirit (Eph 5:18). In
this way, the Spirit can speak to us as we prepare to serve and whilst we serve.
Sometimes, God’s voice is gentle, coaxing us to do His bidding. At other times,
it can be like a fire burning in our hearts until we have accomplished the
Many years ago, I attended a Bible
camp overseas with several brethren from the UK. We were in a foreign place
with members who were strangers. I still remember the emotions: nervousness and
excitement mixed with trepidation of what lay ahead. Would I be able to cope
with the schedule, and would I understand the lectures?
Faced with a class from different
backgrounds and language needs, the lecturer had to speak in Chinese and then interpret
the message into English by himself on the first day. I began to wonder how
long he could sustain this, but there was obviously no other arrangement
planned. During one of the prayers, I interceded for the lecturer, asking God
to sustain him. Suddenly a thought came to my mind that I should offer to help.
In the next prayer, the feeling became stronger—I knew it was the Holy Spirit urging
me. At that point, I experienced a great internal struggle: I felt I was in no
position to help with my limited interpreting experience; I felt there were
better qualified brethren in the room; it did not feel appropriate, as I was
not from the hosting church. It was such a dilemma, but the Holy Spirit continued
to stir my heart. In the end, I decided I could not ignore the Spirit’s prompting
and offered my help. I could only imagine that the lecturer must have been somewhat
taken aback; in truth, so was I. As it transpired, God mercifully opened my
ears and mouth to do the work. Best of all, after I volunteered, others came
forward to do likewise. In this way, different members pulled together to make the
Bible camp run smoothly. In hindsight, that must surely have been God’s will all
along. Hallelujah, praise God!
The church is a spiritual entity entrusted
with spiritual work. Hence, her workers need spiritual qualities: the ability
to remove personal barriers to make room for God to work; a godly disposition
for the sake of their own salvation and for the benefit of the church; the
gifts of the Holy Spirit to enrich the church and prosper God’s work; and a
willingness to heed the Spirit’s voice. When we all strive together to pursue
these virtues, God will have the use of noble vessels in His house.