FF Chong—London, UK
Serving as a full-time minister in the True Jesus Church has always been considered sacred. Many have desired to serve in this noble cause, but not all have been privileged to do so. And yet, in some countries, the church finds it hard to recruit new full-time preachers. This paradox is worth considering—is serving God full-time still meaningful to the church as a whole? How many of us who love God are willing to dedicate ourselves fully, and for life, to the service of the Lord?
Those currently part of this full-time workforce find it a huge challenge to do their work as God requires. We have seen how some fellow full-time workers have fallen away. These fallen workers had answered the call to dedicate themselves to full-time ministry. However, as time passed, they failed to live their lives in a way that was meaningful and worthy of their work for God. Not only did they fail to complete their God-given tasks, but their actions also brought God's name and the sacred work into disrepute.
Such fallen workers are a warning to us. Acceptance into full-time ministry is not a guarantee of meaningful service to God. The prowling lion who seeks to devour the faithful (1 Pet 5:8) is doubtless even more eager to feast on God's workers. Hence, the latter must constantly strive to better their inner self through the power of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 9:27). In particular, since full-time workers are often in a position of authority, they must constantly imitate the Lord Jesus in humility, and beware the great danger of hubris, refusing to be directed or restrained by others.
The vision of the temple, revealed to the prophet Ezekiel (Ezek 40), illustrates graphically the dangers facing full-time workers. And to better understand this vision, let us first consider the institution of the Old Testament priesthood.
THE PRIESTLY HERITAGE
A priest acceptable to God must be able to trace his lineage back to the Aaronic priestly family. However, God is just and righteous. He does not allow anyone—priest or commoner—to get off scot-free if he has sinned (Ex 34:6–7; Nah 1:3). Hence, the Scriptures record how God severely chastised the family of Aaron. Aaron himself would have been killed had it not been for Moses' intercession (Deut 9:20). Of Aaron's four sons—Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar (Num 3:2–4)—God killed two for offering Him profane fire (Lev 10:1–2).
The priestly line from Aaron's youngest son, Ithamar, was also removed. One of Ithamar's descendants was Abiathar, the son of Ahimelech and the fourth high priest in descent from Eli. Due to the egregious sins of Eli's priestly family (1 Sam 2:30–34), God had commanded that the priesthood be taken from them (1 Kgs 2:27). Hence, during the reign of King Solomon, the priesthood was transferred from Abiathar to Zadok, the descendant of Aaron's other son, Eleazar (1 Kgs 2:35; 1 Chr 6:4–8). This was God's promise because of Phinehas' brave and decisive action in putting away an adulterous couple, thus averting God's wrath from continuing to burn against His people (Num 25:10–13).
In the temple vision given to Ezekiel, there were two categories of priests (Ezek 40:45–46). One category comprised priests who could trace their lineage from their ancestor Zadok. The other comprised priests whose priestly lineage was not mentioned. This is quite unusual since the Law of Moses had prescribed only one priestly patrilineage from Aaron (Ex 40:15). Hence, for the second category,it could be that their lineage was not of the stipulated Aaronic priesthood, or their priestly ministration was not recognized and accepted by God.
Zadok literally means "sanctified" or "being righteous." The priest Zadok served David and Solomon with great faithfulness (1 Kgs 1:32–40). The term "sons of Zadok" is used to distinguish them from the other priests. We can infer that the latter group must have become unsanctified or unrighteous over time due to their unfaithfulness. So, how did those priests end up being unrighteous and unfaithful to God?
Consider the example of Eli: He was a priest (1 Sam 2:11), so his two sons were also automatically priests. But the biblical introduction to these two is startling: "Now the sons of Eli were corrupt" (1 Sam 2:12a, emphasis added), which is also translated as "the sons of Belial (Satan.)" In other words, they became unrighteous in God's eyes due to their constant flagrant violation of their priestly duties. This continual transgressing against God's law is outlined in 1 Samuel 2. Their priestly performance was out of line with the priestly offices they inherited by birth. Their behaviors were far removed from what the law required, turning them into the children of Satan.
THE TEMPLE VISION
In Ezekiel's vision, Eleazar's priestly line is the only surviving one from the Aaronic priesthood. This priestly line focuses on Eleazar's son, Zadok, who epitomizes the faithfulness, sanctification, and righteousness required in serving God. This vision of Ezekiel is highly relevant, particularly to full-time workers in the end-time. It tells us what the church will face and how full-time workers should serve to prevent themselves from serving against the Lord.
There are two reasons for such extrapolation. First, the messages in Ezekiel are prophetic. They are written not for the prophet himself but for us (1 Pet 1:10–12) and for our learning (Rom 15:4). Second, from the vision of the temple, the priests and the temple were well below the required standard of God. So, these messages function as a lens for us to visualize the church's state before she becomes perfect. More importantly, the line of demarcation between the two groups of priests will become more and more distinct as the church approaches perfection.
How can we ensure we are among the right group of priests?
1. Remain Sanctified
Priests are chosen to bring man to God and to help foster a strong relationship between the two. They are to atone for the people's sins through sacrifices, such as sin offerings. However, the reconciliation of man to God is only attainable when the priests themselves are first reconciled to God by atoning their own sins (Lev 9:7; 16:6; Heb 5:3; 7:27). This is a solemn and essential task. If not done correctly, as mandated by the Law of Moses, the priests will become unsanctified and risk losing their own lives (Lev 16:2, 13).
Preachers are chosen to spread the good tidings to the unbelieving world, winning souls for the Lord. Whenever those who believe in the truth are converted, God is glorified, and His kingdom expanded, as seen in the early apostolic church. One salient factor contributing to the church's stability and maturity is the apostles' efforts to remain close to God through prayer and establishing a sanctified relationship with Him. The converted souls will then remain in the Lord, experiencing the joy God has given to the church, steadfastly following the apostles' doctrines and worshipping God.
The apostles' closeness to God was evident in the incident that exposed the deception of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1–11). The work of God to purge wickedness is urgent and necessary for the church to remain sanctified, ensuring God's abiding presence. God works effectively in His church when she is purged. Hence, the church must teach her believers to always seek the forgiveness of sin with a will to draw closer to the Lord. To help themselves and believers to receive the forgiveness of sins, preachers must act faithfully. This is the priority in their service to the Lord.
Preachers in the end-time must be well aware that planning to make the church strong and active in serving must be done on the premise that they are constantly cleansed from all unrighteousness by the blood of Jesus. Confessing their wrongdoings and imperfections before God requires a lot of courage. But it is necessary. Repentance must be genuine, and the penitent must resolve not to repeat the same wrong. God will abide with His church and His workers only when the church remains sanctified. A truly sanctified church with God's abidance can hold on even more firmly to God's truth (2 Thess 2:13).
2. Keep God's Charge
The Lord's commands are to be kept steadfastly and unchangingly. The laws governing the priests are meticulously spelled out (Ezek 44:17–31), ranging from attire to food. At first glance, these regulations appear stringent and restrictive. They are not solely focused on the work the priest performs. God uses these laws governing priestly actions to drive home a vital lesson: priesthood is connected to every facet of a priest's life.
Priests who live consecrated lives are preserved by God's divine principles to teach His people to live a life pleasing to the Lord. These priests are living models to those whom they lead. They are to teach the people verbally by assembling them to hear the Law of Moses (Lev 10:11; Deut 6:4). They are also to teach them by using valuable examples from their own lives. Such priestly teaching would continue until the priest was called back to the Lord. They knew that any misdemeanors on their part would throw the godly order of the community into disarray. For instance, Eli's sons disregarded the law and created an environment in which the people of God abhorred the offerings of the Lord (1 Sam 2:17b).
Preachers with good behaviors are always well respected and will not profane the work they are called to do (1 Pet 3:16). Paul rebuked the teachers of the law. They boast about the law but dishonor the law by breaking it. Hence, the name of God is blasphemed on account of their impropriety (Rom 2:23–24).
How can those who serve the Lord find meaning in their service for the Lord, let alone impart positive lessons in serving to those whom they lead?
Paul teaches that whether we eat or drink, or whatever we do, do all to the glory of God (1 Cor 10:31). This is even more so for preachers. Their lives do not belong to them; they must live for God's glory. Even the simple act of sustaining life must be done with revering God in mind. Nothing is more critical than bringing glory to God. Preachers must ensure that they do not tarnish their status as a preacher, as this would bring dishonor to the name of God. Therefore, to reflect the sanctity of his work, Paul did not demand food from the churches he looked after, although he had the apostolic authority to do so (1 Cor 9:14–15).
3. Withstand Pressure
An interesting aspect of the temple vision was the pressure placed upon the priests. Many of them yielded to the people's power and will to worship idols (Ezek 44:10). This is both heartbreaking and shocking. These priests had lost the power and wisdom from God to guide His people. Instead of bringing the wayward people back to the right way of worship, the non-Zadokite priests tagged along with the crowd.
What becomes of the community of God when the priests fulfill the people's wishes rather than execute God's will? There was massive confusion, particularly since these populist priests were seen ministering in the temple to support the masses' evil desires.
But, the Zadokite priests were different. They chose to follow God's way, to their own hurt (Ps 15:4c), rather than succumbing to the pressure the idolatrous masses exerted on them. They served faithfully in the presence of God, unlike their non-Zadokite counterparts. They could uphold their integrity under intense challenges because God abided with them. They sought to please God above all else; they were approved by God.
FAITHFUL PRIESTS IN THE CHURCH TODAY
The temple vision and God's intolerance of unfaithful priests highlight two sobering reminders for the end-time true church. First, we shall come under adverse ideological influences of the world; specifically liberalism co-opting the language of human rights and equality. Satan has captured the human rights cause to present a very attractive case: "Every human being has the right to do what he or she deems is right." Such a proposition appeals to carnal minds. Such people have forgotten—or refuse to accept—that God's standards are what is right and what truly matters. Like Eve, they desire to be like God and set their own standards.
When more and more worldly believers make their way into the ecclesiastical organization, their carnal views will dominate those who desire to submit to the will of God. Workers without spiritual power and understanding will then be swept along, submitting to the will of the majority even though it is against the word of God. This is tantamount to following the people who went after idols (Ezek 44:12).
The second warning is about heretic incursions into the church. If falsehood is not nipped in its bud, it shall spread like wildfire. By the time the church realizes the severity of the matter, it will be too late to rectify. Many will fall prey to the work of the wicked one, including unsanctified, unrighteous, and unstable workers. There will come a time when those who speak and defend the word of truth will be the minority. The majority will callously choose to go against the word of God. They mock the word of God, casting the truth down to the ground (2 Pet 3:3; Dan 8:12).
In such circumstances, the faithful Zadokites must stand firm; they may be put to the sternest of tests because the faithless majority will persecute them. They must unswervingly hold to the principle that the church's authority is top-down: God is the Head of the church. His chosen workers are given power and wisdom to serve according to His will. Hence, these faithful workers must make spiritual decisions for the good and growth of the church. They must emphasize following the once-and-for-all delivered truth and have the spiritual resolve to safeguard the truth to the end.
Being chosen to serve God full-time is the most honorable of all tasks. This noble status that few have received must be esteemed. However, this noble status itself does not in any way make a preacher better than other believers. In addition, a full-time worker is tasked with heavy responsibilities. But, the duties assigned do not indicate the person's value in God's eyes. He is greatly valued when God is continuously pleased by the things he does. God respects the man who walks humbly with Him (Mic 6:8). God delights in a worker and his work when this worker serves before Him and not merely before man.
To please God, a preacher must be cultivated. Cultivation begins with being sanctified in his service to God by the cleansing of Jesus' blood, to be purged from sin and corruption. This puts him in good stead to keep God's charge. In sanctification, he is given the power to keep God's commands. When the predicted falsehoods arise in the church, he will remain steadfast in his faith and not bow to populist pressures. To do this, day in and day out, until he passes away requires tremendous endurance and trust in the Lord. This is why God holds such a faithful preacher with abundant love and honor; in His eyes, the sun rises and sets on a preacher who is able to stand firm to the end. This constitutes a meaningful serving life of a preacher.