Gifts and the Authority of the Body
Discussion of Watchman Nee’s "Spiritual Authority"
August 26, 1996
This is taken from a time a few years ago when some saints were together in a living room. We’ll preface it ahead of time : ) that if all you ever see is somebody behind a pulpit on Sunday morning, or a committee chairman that you don’t even know, it’s going to be hard to figure out how to apply these kinds of things…
The more we become organic in our life together, the more we will be able and willing to see Jesus through other people. Because of the nature of God’s investment in the Body of Christ, we accept them as part of a kingdom of priests. Maybe they are not so incredibly mature and wise, but you see Jesus there. We desire to be one, and we know that is what God intends for everyone else too. So we need to see Jesus when we look at a room full of people. We need to see that, rather than to judge individuals or evaluate them. We need to soften our hearts and see it the way Jesus sees it. It so distresses Him that He is willing to make people sick and even kill them if they won’t see it. (1Cor. 11)
It’s possible you are going to have to trust somebody else’s seeing, right? If you’re a hand, you have to understand that you can’t see, though maybe you can do other things extremely well. Whatever our gifts are that we can do, one thing that has to happen is to see that those gifts are part of something far bigger than any of us are as individuals. If we are members of one another, we want to function as one because of the authority in Heaven and on earth that’s been given to Christ. And Christ means Anointing. We are watching for anointed life. We’re looking and responding to things that are anointed. The twelve saw it, even though somehow it wasn’t anything they could comprehend themselves. They saw something that was real, that had life in it. So they participated in it, not because they could see it exactly the way He did, but because there was a connection to life there. There was an anointing that was real and not counterfeit. It had authority. Not because they were persuaded about it, but because they saw anointing, they saw life. They knew there was something there that they didn’t have, and so they submitted to it. It wasn’t that they had to be persuaded so they could have it themselves—“Okay, now that we are in agreement, we can go on.” It was something bigger than they were and they recognized that up front. That is why there is authority. Authority is not a military, hierarchical thing, but it is recognizing that Jesus is bigger than what we can perceive and we do not have total control of it, in ourselves. That’s part of discerning the body.
Quotes From Watchman Nee’s Spiritual Authority
The Riches of Christ Are Authority
“It is impossible to make each member a whole body; we must each learn to stand in the position of being a member and of accepting the workings of the other members. What others see and hear is reckoned as my seeing and hearing. To accept the workings of other members is to accept the riches of the Head. No member can afford to be independent, since each is but a member in the body; whatever the other members do is taken as the doing of all the members and hence the doing of the body.
“Today’s problem is that the hand insists on seeing, even after the eye has already seen. Everyone desires to have everything in himself, refusing to accept the supply of the other members. This creates poverty in him as well as the church. Authority is but another expression of the riches of Christ, only by accepting the functions of others—accepting their authority—does one receive the wealth of the whole body. Submitting to the authority of the other members is to possess their riches. Insubordination brings poverty. “If therefore your eye is single, your whole body will be full of light; if your ear is good, the whole body will hear.”
Neal: Did you catch the authority thing in terms of missing out? If you veto the eye and decide to have a committee instead, then you are forfeiting what the eye has to offer to the Body. “Let’s veto the eyes.” And then all the members decide the color of something, whether it’s blue or whether it’s yellow. You are going to be blind for the rest of your life. Or people often think of authority in terms of the military—“So what do I have to submit to? What’s the bottom line? What’s the eye or the ear going to tell me I have to do? What’s the hand going to tell me?” If you look at it that way, you end up forfeiting the deposit that is vested in the gift that is in each member. If you veto the authority of the eye, you also veto the blessing of the eye in being able to enjoy a sunset. It’s not just the eye that enjoys the sunset. The whole body enjoys the sunset, if it accepts the eye. The whole body enjoys the symphony, not just the ear. You don’t sit there and say, “Oh, my ear really likes this but the rest of me…” It doesn’t work that way. You enjoy the whole thing collectively.
More From Watchman Nee
“We often misunderstand authority as something which oppresses us, hurts us, and troubles us. God does not have such a concept. He uses authority to replenish our lack. His motive in instituting authority is to bestow His riches on us, and to supply the need of the weak. He would not have you wait for decades to pass through many dark and painful days before you are able to see by yourself. By that time you might have led many into darkness. Indeed, you would become the blind leading the blind. What damage would God suffer through you! No, He first works in the life of another, and works thoroughly, so that He may give that person to you as an authority above you for you to learn obedience and to possess what you have never possessed before. This man’s wealth becomes your wealth. Should you overlook this divine procedure, though you may live for fifty years, you may still lag far behind the attainment of that person.
“The way God grants His grace to us is twofold: sometimes, though rarely, He grants grace to us directly; mostly, He gives His riches to us indirectly—that is, God puts above you the brothers and sisters in the church who are more advanced spiritually (or who have different gifts) that you may accept their judgment as your judgment. This then will enable you to possess their wealth without you having to go through their painful experiences. God has deposited much grace in the church; but He dispenses to each member some grace in particular, just as each star has its own particular glory. Hence authority brings in the riches of the church. The wealth of each member is the wealth of all. To rebel is to choose the way of poverty. To resist authority is to reject the means to grace and richness.
Distribution of Functions Is Also a Delegation of Authority
“Who would dare to disobey the Lord’s authority? But let us remember that the authority of the members, which God has coordinated in the body, needs to be harkened to also. God has joined many members together, and it is downright rebellion for anyone to resist the help of the other members. Sometimes the Lord uses a member in a direct way, but at other times He uses another member to supply the need of that member. As the head directs the eye to look, the whole body must accept the seeing of that eye as its seeing. Such distribution of function is a delegation of authority; this also represents the authority of the head. Should the other members presume to see themselves, they are rebellious. Never be so foolish as to think of yourself as almighty.
“Always remember that you are but a member; you need to accept the workings of the other members. When you submit yourself to a visible authority, you are in perfect harmony with the Head, since the fact that someone has the supply constitutes its authority. Whoever is gifted has work, whoever has work has authority. The eye alone can see; so in the need to see, you have to submit to the authority of the eye and receive its supply. The work God appoints is authority; no one should reject it. Most people want to have God’s direct authority, but God’s more frequent way is to set up indirect or delegated authorities for us to obey. Thus through them we are to receive spiritual supply.”
Life Makes Obedience Easy
“It is hard for the world, even as it was for the Israelites, to obey, because there is no link of life. But for us who have a life relationship, to disobey is hard. There is an inward oneness—one life and one Spirit, the Holy Spirit directing and controlling everything. We are happy and restful if we are subject to one another. If we try to bear all the burden entirely upon our own shoulders, we will tire. But if the burden is distributed to various members, we will feel restful. How peaceful it is to accept the restrain of the Lord. In being subject to the authority of the other members, we experience a great emancipation. But to stand in another’s place makes us feel most forced. To obey is natural; to disobey is difficult.
“The Lord calls us to learn obedience in the body, the church, as well as in the home and in the world. Were we to learn well in the body, we would have no difficulty in other areas. The church is where we should begin to learn obedience. It is the place of fulfillment even as it is the place of trial. Should we fail here, we will fail everywhere. If we learn well in the church, the problems of the kingdom, of the world, and of the universe can be solved.
“In the past, both authority and obedience were objective, that is, an outward subjection to an outside power. Today authority has become a living thing, something inward. Authority and obedience meet each other in the Body of Christ. Instantly, both turn subjective and the two are merged into one. Herein is the highest expression of God’s authority. Authority and obedience reach their consummation in the body. Let us be built up here; otherwise, there is no way. The place where we meet authority is in the body. The Head (the source of the authority) and the members (each with its function, working with each other as delegated authority as well as being obedient to authority) are all in the church. If we fail to acknowledge authority here, there is no way.”
External vs. Internal Authority
Bruce: These words stand out to me in what Nee said: “Who would dare to disobey the Lord’s authority? But let us remember that the authority of the members which God has coordinated in the body needs to be harkened to also.” What I was thinking is, the world goes about it by appointing authority first and then requiring others to follow. But that’s backwards. God is the one who gives the gifts and that anointing is real and the authority is real. It’s not this approach of, “Understand now, that so and so has authority. Hearken to what they say.” It could be true (that they have authority), but you find that out in the experience and fellowship within that relationship. The fruit of their life, rather than it being “assigned” to them for external reasons, proves it to you. It’s something God does.
Mark: That distinction between internal authority and external authority is so important. In the case of the external authority, it’s dependent on who’s been here the longest, who knows their Bible the best, who went to seminary, who speaks louder than anyone else, or some other such thing. And you can judge it and say, “You can’t tell me… I don’t think I like your authority.” On the flip side, true authority in your life comes from an inward knowing of God. “The situation that’s about to come up requires seeing, and I’m a hand. So who can I ask to help me?” It’s not, “Okay, okay, you’re an eye, so I’ll do what you say. Someone said you’re an eye—all right.” Rather, it’s a humility that says, “I need an eye.” And so the authority comes from the other direction. It’s recognizing a gift that I don’t have, and submitting to the fact that I don’t have it and they do. With the gentiles, Jesus said, the authority comes from the top. Discernment of the body comes from the other direction. It’s as members of one body you were called, Paul said.
So authority is not wrapped up in my opinion. “Whatever I agree with, that has authority.” That would mean that I have all the authority, right? It’s also not a hierarchy. It’s not that you bring in a desk and put a gold nameplate on the door that says, “pastor” or whatever, and then you have your hierarchy. “There’s the boss right there behind the door with a nameplate, so there’s authority.” It is also not wrapped up in democracy—if enough people vote in favor of it, then that would be authority. So it’s not my judgment, which makes me god, and it’s not the nameplate, the hierarchical authority, and it’s also not democracy. It’s none of those three things. There is another choice, and it’s called anointing—life, giftedness, or the authority that has God’s thumbprint on it that He’s invested in the members of the Body.
If a person doesn’t discern the body, you can see why they can’t even be a member of the body. There’s no way. Anybody that doesn’t submit ends up getting caught in the door of the elevator. They end up getting burned on a hot stove because they won’t submit and function together with the body. It’s not because, “If you don’t submit, I’m going to crush you with a hammer.” It’s just that sooner or later, a hand that doesn’t submit will lose its feelings and nerve endings. They end up losing a limb, it falls off, and it’s all because they got themselves in trouble. They do things that they shouldn’t do because somehow their limbs are not connected to the head in a way that they will be properly protected. Sooner or later they will have to be disciplined because of that.
3-Dimensional Life in a 2-Dimensional World… How Do You Do It??
Do keep in mind that some people don’t really have a way to apply the things that Paul wrote about because they are not in a Church. It isn’t a Church. It isn’t a Body, so the elements of connectedness in the body are just not applicable. That’s something to keep in mind, and some of you know that experientially already. But some of you don’t know it, except from things that you have heard about. The truth is, if you try to apply some basic truths about how to live with one another in an environment that’s not really a Church, you will find yourself getting beaten to smithereens. There’s no logical solution. There are just too many dilemmas, and too many contradictions of Scriptures in the religious world. There is no way to apply what we’re talking about because it’s in a different dimension.
It’s like a picture on one of those calendars you squint at for a while and all of a sudden it becomes 3-dimensional. If you try to stick your hand in there and get it, you can’t! You can kind of see it, but it’s in a different world. Your hand just goes flat up against the calendar when you try to reach in and grab that apple or that building or that kitty cat. Your hand goes up against something flat, even though your eyes can see something in the third dimension. You can’t get your hand on it.
That’s what most people are facing in the religious world. They see these scriptures and they want them so bad. But no matter how sincerely they are seeking God, their hand comes up against something flat when they try to reach in and get it. It’s because they are part of an organization—not the Church. It doesn’t apply, it doesn’t work, and it doesn’t make sense. It’s just not there. Now what some people do is they begin to rewrite the scriptures in order to accommodate their experience. “Well, it didn’t mean that. It’s just figurative.” Or, “I’ll just ignore that and not think about it and maybe it will go away.” Or, “We’re doing the best we can. We are only human and the Bible is an ideal book and we live in a non-ideal world.” You can come up with all kinds of humanistic garbage, but the real problem is, that unless you live in that third dimension, all these Scriptures about the third dimension don’t make any sense. Many of them don’t.
For instance, you have to stretch it to find a “pastor” in the Scriptures. “Well, James must have been a pastor because Peter said, ‘Go tell my brothers and James…’ That’s it! James must have been the pastor.” They start stretching stuff like crazy, because they are living in a 2-dimensional calendar world, and trying to make a 3-dimensional world happen. They try to reach in and get the kitty cat and end up smashing their hand against the thing, so they finally just quit. They just say, “Well, I guess it’s supposed to be this way, like it always has been. Let’s just ignore it.”
I want you all to really be asking God to give you clear vision of this point that we are talking about—the nature of the Body of Christ. Most people would not have the slightest idea of how to apply the things that we are talking about. To them, democracy is the authority, or their own personal judgment is the authority, or the hierarchy that’s listed on the “church” bulletin is the authority. So they try to apply things. “Well, what does that mean, then? Does that mean I can’t ask any questions about his sermon because that would be ‘touching God’s anointed’”? People are just caught in this world because they are not members of one another. They don’t have any way to relate the flow of blood from one member to another that carries the nutrients from the hand to the eye to the foot and around and around.
Appreciate…And Live It Out
Here are two things for you. If God has given you a chance to have something organic where you can apply the Scriptures in their fullness without all these weird contradictions of whole chapters that don’t even apply, really appreciate that. Take 1Cor. 12 for example. Being “members of one another” makes no sense at all when you are “attending” something. “When one part suffers the whole body suffers.” There is no way that scripture means anything! Or “devoted to the apostles’ teaching, counting none of their possessions as their own”—that stuff makes no sense to the average person that goes to a religious facility. So first of all, appreciate it if God has given you a chance to live out the fullness of God’s counsel, because that is not a privilege that everyone, no matter how sincere they are, has available to them. There are better people than us that do not have the ability to live out the Scriptures. They see the 3-dimensional object in the calendar, but they can’t get there. There is no way to apply Mat. 18—to tell two or three witnesses and then talk to the Church about it. It’s impossible! They can’t find two or three witnesses that aren’t going to slander the guilty party behind his back and laugh about it as soon as they do. So then to “tell it to the whole Church” is an absolutely idiotic thought. Most people can’t even do what Jesus commanded them to do. It’s impossible.
So appreciate it if God has given you the privilege, and live it out. Do something about it. God takes it away from people that won’t use it and gives it to somebody who will. That’s what Jesus said. “I’m going to take the kingdom away from you and give it to those that will bear its fruit.” If you are just going to sit on it and not live it out, God will take it away from you and give it to someone who will bear its fruit. A Scripture I was looking at prayerfully the other night was that God has ransomed others that we might live (Isa. 43). He has killed others that we might live. Others have died that we might live. That’s a serious, serious thought. He will take the Kingdom away from us if we won’t bear its fruit and do something about it. That’s point number one—to realize and act on what God has given you the ability to live in and don’t be lazy about it and bury it.
By His Grace…Gifts for a Foundation
The second thing is to ask God that His Kingdom would fill the earth. Ask that everyone who sincerely calls on His name, whether in Africa or Brazil or someplace else—wherever it may be—will have a chance to live it out. They won’t be caught living in that 2-dimensional world and just gazing into the third dimension, but unable to touch it. Ask God that He would grant, by His favor, the gifts that are necessary to lay the foundations to make that possible. We are back to gifts again, aren’t we? Knowledge won’t get you there. If you took all the knowledge about what the Church is supposed to be organically and gave it to the most committed Christians, they would not be able to do anything with it apart from the gifts that make that possible. Even the most sacrificial and wonderful Christians that you could ever imagine, with the most marvelous maturity and character would not be able to pull it off. That’s an amazing thought. Knowledge does not equal maturity. Knowledge does not equal giftedness. Knowledge will not allow a person to fulfill their destiny. Only gifts do that. Knowledge doesn’t do that. I want to restate that, because you need to understand the nature of this unseen Kingdom.
Imagine if you took the very best Christians in the world, the most committed who know their Scriptures, who pray three hours a day, and who love people sacrificially with everything within them. They never utter a negative attitude or thought. They are worshipful, filled with joy, loving with all their heart in every area, and you can’t even find a weakness because they are so close to God. Put fifty people like that together and you will not be able to come up with a body of believers out of those fifty totally committed people. They will not be able to be a people that are “joined and knit together by every supporting ligament.” You cannot have it by commitment or knowledge or any such thing as that. It only comes through gifts. Is that something that everyone realizes? Does everyone recognize that fact?
Katie: Are you meaning that if they are all hands it doesn’t constitute a body? I may not be following you….
Mark: I am saying there are certain gifts that allow Foundation, that allow all the parts to work together. Just to put it in plain English, Eph. 2 says that the Foundation is that of the apostles and prophets.
Now, let’s say you have hands, eyes, ears, mouths, and feet. You take all the parts of the body and put them all in one place, but you don’t have those two gifts (apostles and prophets). You will not have a functional body, because the hand won’t know how to connect to the forearm, as it says in Eph. 4. It says that God gave apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers for the “mending together,” the equipping of the saints. The word in the Greek is “katartidzo” and it means, “mending together.” It has to do with setting a broken bone, for example, and putting it in the right place. The word “katartidzo” is the word for putting two members together. That is the literal Greek word that God chose there. That means that if the parts of the body are all going to fit together in the right way and then have the life to function together, there are a couple of particular gifts that allow that to happen. If you put all the same members together without those specific gifts to mend them together, you won’t get a oneness of compacted life no matter how mature and desirous they are of having that.
One of the mysteries of the gospel of the Kingdom is that a whole lot of this stuff is related to giftedness, not to commitment, “lest any man boast.” Commitment is something you can do. You can develop commitment by obeying God. Of course, you need God’s Grace and His Spirit to know what to obey and to have the strength to obey it, so even then you can’t boast very much, can you? But apart from all of that, it says in Eph. 4 that He “gave gifts to men,” and the word “gift” there is the same word that’s translated “grace” in other places, and it’s unmerited favor. That’s how we normally define grace, is “unmerited favor.” In other words, there are things that God does that aren’t earned. They are gifts that God bestows that aren’t related to commitment or maturity. It’s related to His sovereign intentions and what He wants to accomplish in a certain time and place. So He bestows gifts “as He wills,” the Scripture says. Depending on what and how and when He wants to do it, He pours out His gifts in order to accomplish His purposes. Commitment is not the same thing as gifts. It’s the gifts that are necessary to compact the body together and allow it to be an organism, rather than a bunch of committed members all in one place trying to figure out how to look like a body.
I could give you some examples over the years and across the cities, as several have come to mind tonight while we have been reading. But just suffice it to say that all of this is very large and very related to God’s sovereign purposes and gifts. It’s very important that we discern the body and see these things that God has done and respond to them with the right kind of heart toward them, as well as ask God for His sovereign intervention in other cities and places.
“Commitment” Won’t Do It
Neal: I can feel some of it, but could you paint a picture of what that would look like? You may not have words for it right now, but what if there are fifty people who are totally committed, but there’s just no oil to lubricate life. The people are intelligent enough and care enough that they ought to be able to understand each other, but misunderstandings and hurt feelings are constantly there. The communication just doesn’t work, and for some reason the thing just isn’t clicking, though it doesn’t appear to be anybody’s fault directly. Everybody’s trying hard to make it work. It’s almost like it’s under the Babylonian babble curse, with this inability to really work together in a cohesive way. You can feel the anarchy of the thing, even though the players seem admirable.
Mark: You are right on the money. Here’s an example of that very thing. Let’s say some people are together some place and one man says something about how God is going to have a “triumphant Church in the last days.” He makes this statement, and to him it brings life and there is purpose and power in that, and he’s excited about it. It brings vision and motivation to him and everybody else to lay down their lives for others. Then there’s this other person, who is totally committed to Jesus, and totally desirous of seeing God’s will brought out on the earth. There’s not a negative thought in this other person’s mind in terms of there being a triumphant Church. But he, with his set of experiences, thinks to himself, “Oh, I bet he means dominion theology. We are going to have a utopia on the earth, and Christians are going to hold all the offices, and we are going to eliminate taxes, and everybody is going to do good for one another. There is going to be a Christian utopia. That’s what he means by a triumphant Church.”
Well, the first guy didn’t mean that at all! But that’s all the second guy could hear. Both are sincere, so the second guy brings that up: “Are you trying to say dominion theology?” And the first guy says, “No, no, no!” And everyone listening says, “Dominion theology? What’s that?” And he chimes in with, “Well, dominion theology is when…” All of a sudden, he’s on a roll, and the heart behind what the first guy said is gone. Now we don’t have motivation to lay down our lives for each other; we are just brighter about what dominion theology is. All because they never heard of dominion theology, and though they both really cared, the heart behind the lifeblood that was flowing through us is gone. A few minutes earlier, we were motivated to lay down our lives that Jesus might come back for His Bride. Now all of a sudden, all we can think about is, “Some people believe in dominion theology, but we don’t. That’s not what we think about.” And our heart has been stolen, it’s gone. Our connectedness isn’t there.
That’s what happens when it’s not really the Body of Christ. The gifts haven’t laid the foundation in such a way that the parts can be mended—“katartidzo”—mended or joined together so that it flows. We have all these millions of things come up in our heads and we can’t help it. It’s not that we are not committed or that we don’t love, it’s just that we can’t help it. It just keeps coming up. We can’t get connected. We can’t feel together as one, the way we need to feel.
I’m glad you began that illustration, because that’s exactly what I was saying. Fifty, or five thousand totally committed people, far beyond anything we’ve known, still could not be the body of Christ apart from the gifts that allow the parts to connect together. It could be the bionic man with the best parts in the universe, and it still won’t be as much life as could be in ten people who don’t know their Bibles worth a hoot. It’s God, through His gifts, who allows those ten people to be connected one to another, and truly love each other. He allows people to truly feel the suffering and rejoicing that the other ones feel, and like Melchizedek and Abraham to be able to sense things between each other that aren’t even being said. When one part suffers, the whole body suffers—they feel it together. Well, that comes from a foundation that comes from gifts, not from commitment or knowledge or desire. No matter how hard we try, confusion happens. The tower-of-Babel chaos happens apart from God’s grace being poured out and this foundation issue. It’s just a marvelous, miraculous act of God’s grace that allows it to be anything other than that tower-of-Babel, competing knowledge sort of thing.
I can think of one practical example of that. One time a couple just showed up when the whole Church was together and we were listening to a book on cassette tape. We were all very aware of the fact that this particular book had a few things of a New Age flavor or something. In the novel, there’s this guy roaming around from one “church” building to another, being a do-gooder and making everyone feel better about themselves. He confounds them with his special kind of wisdom, but he doesn’t ever join anything. We all see the error of that. None of us would do that, right? You would all see the error in your personal life if you were to go around from building to building and just say nice things and then drift away. We know that isn’t what God wants, and that wasn’t why we were listening to that tape. It wasn’t to talk everyone into being drifters and hot shots that say witty things and then vanish off into the sunset. That wasn’t why we were listening to it. We all see the error of that lack of commitment to personal lives.
So this couple showed up on that particular evening, and they felt some compulsion to have something to say. I forget what it was about exactly, but it had to do with the realm of psychology. It was thrown in the middle of everything with, “Well, I’d like to say something about that.” And because they were disconnected from the life of the body, the very thing that we’ve been talking about, happened. Everybody except for that couple could feel the life of what it was that we were doing there. They were disconnected from that and all they could think of was the fact that one of their dads had written a book on New Age sort of stuff, and the other was an expert in trying to expose psychology as being American witchcraft. So the thoughts in their heads were their “ministries” and their experiences. They weren’t connected to the body of Christ in any way, so all they could talk about were the first things that popped into their minds. They were on a kind of witch hunt of, “How can I find things where my ‘ministry’ can come out?” and they were disconnected. They didn’t feel what we felt when we were listening to that tape. All they could hear was the chaos of the errors of it, which none of us cared about. We didn’t pay any attention to it. We didn’t even feel a need to qualify it, because we were grabbing the life out of it, with no acknowledgement of the other junk. But that’s all they could think about.
Not a Pep Rally…
That’s what happens when you are not part of the Body of Christ in a connected way. That’s all anybody can do. They just do their best to survive with what they know, trying to help each other and trying to get as much out of it as they can. They eat the meat and spit out the bones, and try to survive as best they can. They find someone to lead a pep rally, and get them all excited about the latest program so they can act as if they are one until the program gets old. Then they think they’ve had a pretty good experience with “church.” That’s about as much as you can get out of it, is human leadership, human motivation and human pep rallies that get you excited about the program until the program falls apart. You get a rush of adrenalin that feels like the body for a short amount of time and you can be satisfied that at least you are in as good a place as any other place.
But there is a whole lot of difference between being connected to the Body of Christ and getting an adrenalin rush from a new “preacher,” or new program, or new building, or an exciting special on Sunday morning. Someone sings a great song that you feel good about, or you went forward for the altar call and it gives you an adrenalin rush, and then you’re back to your old life. Frankly, that’s the way most people live. It’s not because they want to. Some do, I suppose. But the fact is, we really need to cry out to the Lord of the harvest for the gifts that make genuine, committed Christians be able to be one—members of one another. Those gifts are sadly lacking on this planet, and so committed people wander aimlessly, trying to find something that they can connect to. They’re trying to find something where they don’t have to kind of hang out in a place and where their conscience isn’t violated every time they walk in the door.
God deserves better than that, and He will have it. Part of our job is to explore what He has given us. As I said before, He will take it away from us if we won’t bear its fruit on an individual basis. You have to give your life away to it and submit to what we’ve been reading here, in terms of connecting your life to others. You see Christ in it and you act that way. If you hold yourself back and won’t do that, then it will be taken away from you and given to one who will bear its fruit. Secondly, care about your brothers and sisters around the world. Beg God that they would be able to know what it’s like to be members of one another in this present age…for the testimony of Jesus as well as for their own spiritual growth.
A Taste And a Hope, But…
Neal: Most of you may have read “The Day of Small Beginnings,” including the epilogue at the end. One of the reasons the epilogue exists is this thing we are talking about now. We didn’t want to lead people on into something that’s unrealistic. What’s pictured in the novel is this small group of people that are getting to know each other and who are moving forward and connecting with each other in a dynamic way. While what is depicted in the book isn’t called a church, even what is depicted, realistically, is impossible. You may remember detecting an unquantifiable specialness that existed between the half a dozen members. That wasn’t really possible just because they were kind, and hard-working and committed people, though that was commendable. There wasn’t anything wrong with them; it’s just that they needed an element that wasn’t depicted in the book. So we just said at the end, “Let this inspire you, but please know that it ain’t possible to do it the way we depicted it. There are some other things that are mandatory to get there.”
Letting the Davidson’s and the Stone’s and George Archer experience a dynamic of life is meant to inspire the people who read that book. It’s to let people know that there is hope for the future out there. That Christianity can really function and it’s not a myth. The people in the novel began to experience some of that life. George and Wayne and the others get to know each other and they have something unique and special in their lives together. But their qualities and their gifts alone would not have made what is depicted about their lives possible. It is not realistic. That they would even stay together and be friends for very long is highly unlikely in most places! You might find some people with common things, people clustered here and there. But the warmth and the life, the heartbeat, the blood that was holding these people together in the book and drawing them toward each other, and that’s making them fall in love with each other isn’t possible without the things that are said in the epilogue. And that is, that apart from giftedness (which these guys didn’t have), they couldn’t live the way we depicted. They can’t get there from here.
Can you see the picture of what is there and feel in your bones that they can’t even really get to where they were? Can you feel it? I lived in another city for a time, and the level depicted in the book would exceed anything that ever existed where we lived. And though I liked most everybody there, it was not the level depicted in the book. It was much below that, and the strange misunderstandings and the inability to communicate just didn’t make sense to me. I would think, “I like this person a lot and am positive they love God and want to go forward.” And, “I like this other person too, who wants to go forward with God.” Yet these situations would come up where they’d each have their thoughts about what the other said, and neither was right, and they’d be stuck at an impasse about it. Again. Why do they keep getting at an impasse? Something was missing in their ability to relate to each other that was bigger than themselves. And I don’t want to make it seem like it was just those two people who were misunderstanding each other. I, too, would get confused in the mix. There would be this tossing to and fro of the whole thing, trying to sort out the normal issues of life. Life could get a lot more complicated than it had to be.
You could mistakenly think that twenty people who loved God and cared about each other could probably have a pretty good time together indefinitely in a city. What would keep them from doing that? It ought to be a blast, right? Things don’t come to mind that would keep them from that. Sure, it’d be better than being a pagan. But the Life that would be missing would be obvious if you were in the middle of it.
What Can We Do??
Faye: I have a question that probably has a really obvious answer, but it’s about the fifty people we were talking about a while ago, that acknowledged and cared and loved. But there was that lack that they had. We’ve met people like that and I just am wondering, what can we do about it? It reminds me of the scene in “The Bride” video. The Bride had kind of blown it, and she was talking to the Holy Spirit and she put her hands on her waist and said, “What are we going to do about it?” She had that spunky kind of, “What are we going to do about it?” As I’m listening to all of this, I know it’s right. So what if we know fifty people like that and they come to a place where they realize there is something lacking? What are they to do about that, or what do we do about it? How’s it going to change?
Mark: There are two elements. One is to pray to the Lord of the harvest for laborers. And the second is, “Go ye therefore. The gospel of the Kingdom will go into every nation and then the end shall come.” It says it will go—not just emerge in every nation and the end shall come. The gospel of the Kingdom will go into every nation. There simply is just work to do, so we ask God. The context of the commission was, “Pray to the Lord of the harvest, and now therefore, I am sending you.” We ask God to provide what He needs to provide, and we also do whatever we can do in response to Him. We spend ourselves laboring in the vineyard. Does that answer your question?
Faye: Somehow my mind wants to make it more complicated than what it simply is! I guess that’s because the so-called “church” situations make it complicated. I know it is the simplicity of what you just said…
Others Reap the Benefits Too…
Neal: I was wondering whether it is mandatory that the two gifts of apostle and prophet be in a certain locale for it to function on a true Foundation, or if the locale can just be in connection with those gifts. How did that work with Paul in an age where staying connected was a whole lot tougher than it is now? They couldn’t deal with something in 24 hours like we could now, almost anywhere in the world.
Mark: There are people we know in other places who enjoy many of the benefits of the Foundation here, even though you couldn’t necessarily point at vast amounts of knowledge, maturity, or giftedness. Even though challenges come up for them, there is a general sense of connectedness with us, even if we don’t talk to them for several weeks on end. Maybe we don’t have a huge amount of contact with them, but there is a sense of connectedness there. They do not feel an unhealthy reliance like, “Oh, I don’t think we can do anything without asking someone in your city.” It’s nothing like that. They have a very colorful life in other places, with a thousand things going on that we don’t know anything about, and don’t need to know about. But there is just a sense of overall connectedness where we really are one with them. In spite of a lack of communication for huge amounts of time, and lack of knowing the details that are going on (and there are many colorful situations people are juggling at any given time), there is a mutual love we have with them. There’s not only respect, but also connectedness.
We’ve talked about this in various ways and that is, that with a foundation of teaching, what you end up with is common knowledge. With a foundation of evangelism, you end up with a common desire to save the lost. If shepherding is the foundation, you have a common sense of well-being or being well fed. But those aren’t the foundations that allow you to be joined and knit together by every supporting ligament. The foundation that allows us truly to be connected to each other are those other two gifts. And while those don’t have to be in every location, as Paul certainly wasn’t in every location, there was a connection there spiritually. They had “10,000 tutors but not many fathers.” Paul could go for nine months at a whack without talking to them, and still he referred to himself with a clear conscience by the Holy Spirit, as being their father. They saw it that way and responded that way to him even though he had been gone for months on end. Even after being slandered behind his back after he left, there was still a bond there that wasn’t just based on teaching. “After all, Paul told us a whole bunch of stuff.” There were 10,000 tutors, but not many fathers. There was a kind of bond there to his gift. He wrote to those same people, “I, as a wise master builder, laid a foundation of Jesus Christ, but now each of you must be very careful how you build on the foundation.” He was a father and master builder or architect—a foundation layer with them.
And that was totally different than giving them a whole bunch of teaching and information. As valuable as teaching might have been, that isn’t what allowed them to be one with each other. Teaching didn’t provide that, but the gift that he had did. Even after being gone for probably nine months from the time he left till he wrote the first letter, he could still refer to himself as a father. He could say to them without fear of contradiction or objection or accusation or arrogance that he was a master builder and had laid the foundation there. There was a genuine father/son, father/daughter connection there. It was a live dynamic of, “We are one” rather than, “We owe him because he gave us information.” And so his gift and his oneness with them allowed them to function and respond out of his gift, even though he wasn’t there for huge blocks of time, and they had very little information to work with.
Very Rich Truths
These are all pretty rich biblical truths we are talking about. If each of you, as individuals were all part of various different religious organizations around the country and everybody just showed up here for one night to talk about these things, I would feel sorry for you. I’d feel sorry because you would be going back to that 2-dimensional world where you wouldn’t be able to apply any of this, but all of it would still be true. All of this about apostolicity, or whatever you want to call it, and how the Body of Christ works together with authority and being one would still be true. And the truth about being members of one another and how our gifts relate would all still be TRUE!
The truth about it is independent of your experience of it. Regardless of whether you ever have or ever will experience them, or wherever you might live, all of these things are rich truths from God’s Heart. It’s the way He ultimately wants things to be, as the gospel of the Kingdom “goes into every nation, and then the end will come.” These are very real things. Forget about your experience of Him or lack thereof. Wherever a person might live, we need to cry out for these things in Jesus’ name. This is the oil that makes possible these different commands that God gave and all these different descriptions of things. It all flows together, makes sense and begins to work when the gifts are in place. But it’s very awkward and difficult, if not impossible, apart from that. This is something to ask God for in its fullness in every city on earth.
Neal: Father, the things that we are talking about are much more important to You than they are to us. It’s hard sometimes in our own hearts to sift through our fascination with new ideas versus our genuine love to see Your purposes thrust forward in the earth. But we beg You in the name of Your Son to look past our weaknesses, and our ability to apprehend these things or to understand them, or even appreciate them. We ask that You would look past those things in the name of Your Son and stretch out Your hand. We invite Your government. We want the government to be on Your shoulders and we invite it. We invite Your authority and want to be in submission to that authority. Please, for the sake of the scattered lambs that will never have any way at all to have fellowship to a significant degree with You or each other, we beg You to pour out Your gifts on the earth. We ask that Your House could be built, that people could know You. We ask that the chaos and confusion could be over and that the lonely could be placed in families and that lives could be restored and brought back together. None of these things can happen apart from You pouring out this kind of grace that we have talked about tonight.
Please burn up the petty, stupid things that occupy too much of our lives that would keep us from embracing Your vision for the earth—the reason that You built the earth. Please don’t be forced to tear the Kingdom from us and give it to those who will bear its fruit. We want ourselves to do that, to live lives worthy of the calling, regardless of how well we understand the calling. “Who is sufficient for such things?” as Paul said. Certainly we are not, but certainly it has also been Your desire to do it with real people. We would like to be those people. And also others—whatever and whoever—it doesn’t matter to us. We don’t have to get any ego out of being some instrumental agent in this being accomplished. You deserve better than that. There will not be a demonstration of the life of Your Son apart from these gifts being able to function. So because that is more important to You than it ever has or will be to any of us, we ask You to do that, for Your own name’s sake.
To See the Body of Christ—This Is War!
Mark: There’s a war that is waged over all these things, and I’m sure Nee felt a pinch of that in writing a book like this relating to authority. One of the places the battle is waged is over pride, ego, and ambition—that sort of thing. Because we don’t get to choose what our gifts are. Paul said, “I was the least of the saints, the chief of sinners, and yet I am what I am; therefore, I have to do what I have to do. It’s by God’s grace. I didn’t choose it, I didn’t pick it—but don’t get in my way. I am going to work harder than all the rest. Get out of my way. I didn’t choose it, I didn’t deserve it, but I am what I am, and I have to. So get out of my way.”
“The apostles testified with great power, and great grace was upon them all.” That’s not “generic Christianity” like democracy, is it? “They were all together, devoted to the apostles’ teaching.” Right? In Samaria, Phillip brought a lot of people to Jesus. Then Peter and John show up. Why? It’s because even though Phillip was one of the seven, and referred to as an evangelist in Acts 21, his gift didn’t have to do with joining and knitting together. He certainly participated in the gathering, yet there were other gifts necessary to help put the pieces together. Peter and John knew that.
Think about it. They laid the money “at the apostles’ feet.” That doesn’t sound like generic Christianity, like democracy, does it? So again, let’s start looking at stuff like that and pretend we are all in this room, gathered from fourteen different cities for one night just to discuss some biblical topics. Let’s take a hard look at that. What is going to get in the way of being able to really embrace that kind of Christianity? You can hear someone saying, “I ain’t layin’ no money at nobody’s feet! You can’t make me. He is just a mere man like I am!”
Remember that Peter was rebuked in public for being prejudiced against gentiles ten or fifteen years after he became an apostle. He still had flaws that required even public rebuke at times. But that didn’t in any way stop the fact that Jesus gave him the keys to the Kingdom. That was real. Flip two chapters over and he gave the keys to the other eleven too. These were apostolic keys that we are talking about, and that’s why the apostles “testified with great power and great grace was upon them all.”
Realistically and biblically, there is something extremely important about those two gifts, and the apostolic gift in particular. And pride is a major enemy of that whole idea because no one wants to lay money at anyone’s feet! No one wants to be devoted to a mere man’s teaching or let them testify with great power, because someone is going to call you names if you do. Right? Someone is going to start calling you names and you will have to deal with that if you lay money at the feet of a mere man. You’re going to have to deal with something in your own heart about that, no doubt, just like they had to back then. “You’re devoted to what?!” Well, nowadays we say, “to the apostles’ teaching” and it sounds kind of religious and nobody thinks about it. But what if you say you are devoted to Paul and Peter’s teaching, you lay siege to it and you lay money at Peter and John’s feet? You choose to bring Ananias in front of Peter, to let him handle this thing. “Well, why don’t you just handle it yourself?”
I’m just saying that we are not going to be able to look at life in an American, democratic mindset and truly find everything God wants for His people. We are not going to be able to help other people in our short lifetimes if we are not able to overcome some things in our hearts that our American mindsets have injected into us—things that repulse our pride and our carnal nature. Would you have been able to lay money at Peter’s feet, or John’s feet? Would you have been able to do that? If not, you just cut yourself out of the only work of God on planet earth during that era because you had too much ego for it. You just didn’t understand and you just didn’t like it. Or you didn’t want to be devoted to a mere man’s teaching, because someone might call you names for following a man, or whatever.
I’m talking in extremes here, but it’s because I’m trying to rattle your cage. I’m trying to make you think this through as if you are coming together from fourteen different cities just for the evening to think about some biblical topics. If you can’t overcome these barriers, you are never going to experience what they experienced. Let’s say Dorcas dies. Do you go to the next village to get Peter, or do you take care of it yourself, like Korah? “We all have the Holy Spirit, so why don’t we take care of it? We don’t want to exalt a mere man by getting Peter from the next village.” Okay. She stays dead then. God has His ways of doing things and we have to find out what that is, and work with it. We can’t have too much ego in it, or be too afraid of the opinions of men to hold onto it. We can’t justify it or push it under the rug or try to excuse it with a bunch of pretty words. Did you or did you not lay money at Peter and John’s feet? YES, I DID! If you don’t have the heart and the courage to do what they did, you are not going to have what they had.
I don’t know how that would apply, if we were fourteen people from fourteen different cities. I’m just saying it is the mindset that is not afraid of man. We are willing to see the Body of Christ the way God sees it and respond to it the way He responds to it. We have the ability to lay money at Peter and John’s feet, and at the same time we can also see them be rebuked publicly for being prejudiced against gentiles. Both are valid, and both are real. You have to be able to handle both of those things; otherwise you will not have what they had.
You have to acknowledge that there is authority in the gifts of the Body of Christ, and the different parts of the body have different gifts and need to be responded to in different situations for different purposes. If you can’t live with that, then you will be a generic Christian, with not much beyond generic Christianity in your lifetime. Work really hard on discerning the body the way they did and responding to it accordingly, because there are a lot of riches in there. That’s where the keys to the Kingdom are. I can’t emphasize enough how important all of this is.
Let the Eyes Do the Seeing
Zach: You said to “work really hard at it,” and I’m wondering if you had any practical thoughts in mind? Like laying the money at the apostles’ feet? What do we need to work on so God can have a body of people that He can draw upon so His Kingdom can “fill the earth,” like you were talking about earlier? I could use some practical examples of how in today’s context, we could resist, or disrespect, or not recognize the eye or the ear.
Mark: There are two ways I can get myself in trouble in not discerning the body. I’ll use the example of the eyes. One is, I judge what the eye says it sees, because I’m not an eye and I don’t see it. I don’t take into account that maybe I don’t see. So that’s one way we can do great harm to ourselves, is to sit in judgment of what other parts of the body are functioning in. There may be evidence of anointing or fruitfulness—evidence that it really is an eye. I could have judgment and skepticism in my heart about that and let that hang there and hang there, “Well, I don’t see it. Maybe it’s not really there even though the eye says it sees it. Since I don’t see it, maybe they don’t either.” That lack of discernment of the body comes in the form of judging others that have different gifts than we do. Withdrawing our heart and our loyalty and love, and pulling back away from that in judgment is one way we can bring poverty to ourselves.
There’s another way we can hurt ourselves seriously in the area of discerning the body. It’s when we are in a situation where we really need to see, but we are not inclined to go ask an eye. We just try to see for ourselves. “I’m a hand. I have the Holy Spirit, too,” Korah says. “I have need of nothing. I don’t need you.” So we live independently. We figure we have all the gifts, and other people have all the gifts too, in other measures. “I really don’t need them. My hand can’t see very well, but it can see enough. And my hand can’t smell very well, but it can smell okay. And maybe somebody can see or smell a little better, but I can smell and I can see well enough.” And so we function without observably needing each other…very much. Maybe something will come up, and in a token way we ask around. Or maybe your wife says, “Did you ask anyone?” “Oh, all right, I’ll go ask someone.” But the pressures are external rather than feeling the need. It’s not because I know I need those parts of the body.
So the first way to get in trouble is to judge the eye for what it does see because I don’t really see it myself. I judge and have an uncooperative, arrogant, critical heart, and I’m not loyal to the fact that they can see. And secondly, I don’t express my need for eyes. I don’t function in a mutually dependent sort of way with the other gifts, and therefore end up being somewhat self-sufficient.
As far as the example of laying money at the apostles’ feet—that sort of thing is almost one of those examples that is irrelevant, because there are 10,000 other ways that it could express itself in any given month. That one may never come up in 100,000 years, but the spirit of being able to feel and see that and respond to it without any pride—that’s really the issue. It’s being able to connect with whatever they were connecting with. That’s what allowed them to do that.
Bruce: I’m wondering…what if a person isn’t judging what the eye says it sees, but judges the eye itself, questioning if it even is an eye? Is that related to what you’re talking about? Everyone else can acknowledge the eye and is very content to follow the eye’s seeing, but someone says, “Well, I don’t even think you are an eye.” Is that different? That’s really bad.
Mark: Most people in that situation are hypocritical, because they would also say, “I know that you are an eye, but I just don’t want to think you are an eye.” It’s as if they would acknowledge the reality of it, but they just choose to ignore any responsibility to it. That’s usually the way it works itself out. “I know it’s an eye, but I don’t like the way it’s an eye, so I refuse to acknowledge it as an eye. So I’m not responsible to respond to it as an eye.” I’ve never seen anyone function in such a way as to not even recognize that it is an eye—it’s that they act like it isn’t an eye.
Lone Eyeball?? Or the BIGGER Picture!!
We’re saying all this in specific terms, but analogies are rarely perfect. If you look at it that way, 1Cor. 12 would lead you to believe that a person is an eye and an eye alone, and that it’s the only eye. It’s not really like that. Philip was an evangelist. And Timothy was to do the work of an evangelist. But there’s no evidence that Timothy was an evangelist. Everybody has a responsibility to an extent to be a teacher, right? In Hebrews, “You all ought to be teachers by now.” And yet, those of you that are teachers are “judged more severely.” So obviously, not everyone is a teacher. In fact, Paul went so far as to say, “Are all apostles? No. How about teachers? No.” Some are given to be apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers—some. But, “You all ought to be teachers by now.” So the analogy doesn’t hold so airtight that a person is an eye and only an eye. They may have other gifts. And they may do other things that aren’t even gifts, but they just come out of a responsibility and commitment to Jesus in maturity. Also, the odds are that they are not going to be the only one that could ever see anything. That’s just not going to happen.
The bigger picture is that somehow we recognize that there are different kinds of glory (1Cor. 15). You can see that with the stars and even with the plants and animals. We all have Jesus, who has all of the gifts, inside each of us, and yet there are different kinds of glory. Some things are touched in each of us that stand out, above and beyond the normal level of maturity or beyond how far it would have gone just out of development. We all ought to be prophetic people (Acts 2). And yet some are prophets. I want to round that out to say it’s still not a democracy—God is very able to cover His bases. He’s going to make sure we have multiple testimonies available to us, and other things to where we can see together in a broader way. It’s not just an individually-based sort of thing.
In the corporate life, an eye has blood vessels and other parts connected to it. Think about hand-eye coordination. The ability of my eye and my hand to work together is the only thing that allows me to eat and the only thing that saves my life day in and day out when I am driving. All of it’s very interconnected; so, in that sense, my hand can “see.” My eyes apart from my hands have very little, if any value in many situations. It’s all connected together and we need to see that. It’s important that we not get into the realm of, “Janie has the gift of mercy and she is the only one who does, so put her on the mercy throne. If anyone ever needs any mercy, go to Janie. Surely don’t go to Susie because she doesn’t have that gift.” It’s just not like that! Jesus definitely has something that is bigger than any one person in their individual gifts. All feed together to make the whole thing. A gift isn’t isolated from the whole. It only even exists and has value as it is connected to the whole. If you pull it apart, it will have little, if any value at all. There is no reason to applaud an eyeball. It flat has stinkin’ little to no value, sitting on the table by itself! It is utterly worthless. You’ve got to see the big picture as we’re talking about these things. We’ve been talking about gifts and their necessity, and authority as it relates to gifts, but keep it within the big picture. And that picture is, that it is still a part of the body. Paul covered both of those bases in 1Cor. 12. He said, “You can’t say I have no need of you. On the other hand, make sure that you don’t get cocky about it.”
Neal: After all, what are apostles anyway? It’s simply a tool—another tool in your toolbox—if you will use it. It doesn’t have independent, intrinsic value sitting on the table.
Mark: Very important point. It has no independent, intrinsic value. No gift does.
Neal: There is a way to live horizontally and view each other after the flesh. I can look at Bill and think I know all of what there is to know. I know his background, his personal history, what he likes and dislikes, where he lives, the jokes he tells and so on. Therefore I have extracted everything I can get from Bill. That’s a human way of viewing him, but there is a way to treasure the fact that God has made an investment in him. If Bill has put his hope in Messiah and Christ lives in him, then there is a sunset inside of him that is mine! And it’s everybody else’s too! Somehow it’s getting past the external Bill and digging into the deposit that’s in Bill. There’s God in Bill, and I want to find that, because I like God.
Mark: And it’s not like a lockbox or vault where you go in and get the thing that’s in Bill and then take it home with you. It’s more like a power source that you plug your cord in to and you continue to draw power from it as long as the cord is plugged into their heart. But when you pull the plug out, you cease to get anything out of it. You don’t retain any power just because you were plugged in at one time. It’s only as far as you are currently plugged in that you receive what they are and who they are and what God has done in them. It’s not something you go get and now you have it. It’s something you plug into, and stay plugged into, if you really want it.
The simplest summary of all this is just to recognize what God has chosen to do as it relates to living through the Son, through the many members of His Son. Recognize that fact and live that way. Act like that with your mornings, your afternoons, your evenings, your conversations, and with your choices and decisions. Believe what God has said about what He has done with the people around you. He’s made them members of His Son, and therefore gifted with who He is and the various workings of His personality and His gifts. Live that way. Believe that. Discern the body and live that way as you make your choices about the stuff that you allow in your head and your heart and what you have in your mind to do and not do. Believe that and live that way, and we will see some pretty good stuff come out. : )