The Path of Knowledge & Gift
Over the past ten years since my arrival in the so-called Free World, I have visited quite a number of churches. Allow me to say candidly before the Lord: what most churches today generally advocate are merely scriptural knowledge and gifts (the latter including the so-called "tongues," "divine healing," "baptism of the spirit" etc. that are not biblically based), rather than true spiritual experiences (ref. II Cor. 11:23-12:10, etc.).
Some preachers have become so accustomed to preaching mere scriptural knowledge that the more they preach the more profound their sermons become. They may even assume that the more "spiritual" books they read the more spiritual they will grow, and that the more "spiritual" they become the more books they should read. Meanwhile, the audience, being accustomed to the teaching of knowledge, become inapt or indifferent to the genuine word of life and the related spiritual pursuit, challenges, growth and experiences, etc., which to them seem superficial and boring (ref. Eph. 4:13; Phil. 2: 1-11, etc.).
A number of God"s servants, however, mistake mere brain knowledge and gifts for true spiritual life. Where "life, life" is preached, what is the real spiritual condition? Just as the Lord Himself has said, "few" are those who find the narrow path of life (Matt. 7:14, 21-23). Still fewer are those Lord"s servants who themselves walk the path of life and are leading brothers and sisters on the same track. Unworthy as I know I am to speak these words, I feel obligated as commissioned by the Lord.
Before China came under Communist rule, there were indeed some outstanding ministers, both male and female, who were rich in biblical knowledge and spiritual gifts and who often preached about "spirituality" and "life". The sad thing is (and I speak with a humble and God-fearing heart): very few actually shone in the trials. Rather, quite a number turned out to be stumbling blocks that caused great disappointment and discouragement. Our jealous God had, by exposing the true conditions (ref. I Cor. 4:5), crushed the deeply rooted idolizing concept of brothers and sisters in exalting God's servants rather than the Lord Himself. These lessons of "overturned carts ahead" paid for with blood are noteworthy for us all.
We know for sure that the knowledge of biblical truth is extremely vital. However, it is a most disturbing fact that in the generally bleak state of today's Church, many Christians do not even study the Bible but are devoted to Mammon! However, if biblical truth merely stays in the brain and is not received by faith with the Holy Spirit to become the reality of our life and service, then we are not building the house on the rock. It "will fall, and great is the fall of it" when "the rain descends, the floods come and the winds blow" (Matt. 7:24-27)! Oh, how far apart "to speak of faith" is from "to live by faith", and "to speak of the cross" is from "to truly bear the cross"!
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus spoke of two "gates" and two "ways" (Matt. 7:13-14), one wide with a broad way and one small with a narrow way. In the past many Christians who knew and were close to God called the former the "outward way"1 and the latter the "inward way". There is a world of difference between these two ways. Briefly, only the way that leads to the life of Christ (the inward way) is the one that pleases God �C one that is in accordance with God"s Word, lived out of the love of Christ, together with a life and service anointed with the Holy Spirit. "For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly; nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God" (Rom. 2:28, 29). God does not look at the appearance but at the heart. The path of a God"s servant cannot be determined by his fame, or his academic and social backgrounds, or the size of his church and congregation. Outwardly, the ways that Christians pray, worship and serve may all look alike; inwardly, however, they may be entirely different. Some may act merely outwardly while some act from the depth of the spirit (Luke 18:9-14; Matt. 15:8; Rom. 16:19; Matt. 13:1-16).
Some members have natural virtues and are generous, helpful, modest and gentle, etc. Yet, in the eyes of God and godly people (I Cor. 2:14, 15), such acts of natural virtues are essentially different from the kind of love, humility and meekness, etc. that flow from the life of Christ. Natural virtues are self-initiated, self-dependent and self-centered. They need to be subjected to the cross (ref. I Cor. 13:3). Spiritual virtues originate from God, are empowered by the Holy Spirit, and glorify the Lord Jesus Christ alone.
In itself, suffering has no eternal value unless it is solely for the sake of the Lord and the gospel (I Pet. 4:14; Mark 10:29). However, it does not necessarily go to say that the more one suffers for the Lord the more spiritual insights he gains. In the past and present, countless saints all over the world have suffered for the Lord, but the degrees of benefit thus reaped may all vary; though it is true that those who have gained great spiritual benefits have gone through great suffering (Acts 9:16; II Cor. 4:17). Suffering and other amazing and unique experiences, such as that of Paul being caught up into Paradise, may even turn out to be spiritual burdens (Heb. 12:1), forming grounds for pride and self-exaltation (II Cor. 11:23-33; 12:6,7). However, by the work of the Holy Spirit, suffering can make a Christian humbler, more trusting, holier and more righteous. Therefore, we need to constantly look to the Lord for mercy and grace and to put behind us the past (regardless of success or failure, honor or humiliation), diligently pressing on towards the goal.
A brother once wondered why it was that Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit during Pentecost, had led 3,000 and later 5,000 people to Christ, whereas Steven, also filled with the Holy Spirit, invited only a shower of stones to become the first martyr. The instruments used by God to write the gospel of Luke and Acts, namely Doctor Luke and Apostle John, avoided talking about themselves but skillfully concealed themselves. J.N. Darby, a servant of God in the last century, forbade the writing of his biography. Apostle Paul, however, publicized his experiences and deeds. Others, like George Mueller (a servant of God in the 19 th Century) and James Hudson Taylor (of the China Inland Mission) also left behind their autobiographies. The Holy Spirit's lead for each one varies; as long as it is from the indwelling Holy Spirit, it is pleasing to the Lord.
The word "destruction" in Matt. 7:13 refers to believers having no part in the kingdom of heaven, because it was the disciples that Jesus was addressing in the so-called Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:1).