Don’t we deeply desire to see the church change, returning to Her Lord and being more obedient to His word? How will we participate with Him in His work of calling his people to reconsider their ways, to repent, and to return to followikng and trusting Him? (Knowing that God must be the power in doing so, but how might He use us in this work?). When we think of transformational methods, we might think of change methodologies, classes and training, transformation theories, formulas for change, and designed-for-impact participative activities. These things might appeal to us, but instead, how does His word instruct us?
In II Corinthians, where Paul reveals Himself so intimately, he epitomizes his ministry with the word “manifest.” He describes his work seven times in this letter with the words “made manifest,” “manifestation,” and “manifestly declared.” The seven verses are:
- Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and *maketh manifest* the savour of his knowledge by us in every place (II Cor 2:14)
- Forasmuch as ye are *manifestly declared* to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart. (II Cor 3:3)
- But have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by *manifestation* of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. (II Cor 4:2)
- Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be *made manifest* in our body. (II Cor 4:10)
- For we which live are alway delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus might be *made manifest* in our mortal flesh. (II Cor 4:11)
- Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are *made manifest* unto God; and I trust also are *made manifest* in your consciences. (II Cor 5:11)
- But though I be rude in speech, yet not in knowledge; but we have been throughly *made manifest* among you in all things. (II Cor 11:6)
Rummaging around in Greek sources, Vine’s has “manifest” as, “uncover, lay bare, reveal;” and Strong’s has it, “to render apparent;” Green’s interlinear, “revealing. revelation, revealed, become known.” Finally, the TDNT adds: “what can be perceived by the senses, but in such a way that the perception involves understanding.”
In trying to get to the heart of the mission of itinerants, and of the church, one that could encompass even His work through the OT peoples, it seems to me the mission has always been for God’s people “to be the message” about God- that His people are themselves the embodied message, a living demonstration and example. Interestingly, the old English in the KJV calls our life/walk a “conversation.” We are the message. In which case we have example number 8 of truth being manifested by lifestyle and behavior:
- For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world, and more abundantly to you-ward. II Cor 1:12
Notice I Thess 1:5:
“For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake.”
And notice the result:
“And ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost. So that ye were ensamples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia. ” (see I Thess 1:6-10)
Again, hear Paul describing his work at Ephesus to the assembled elders, to whom he charges to do the same:
“Ye know, from the first day that I came into Asia, after what manner I have been with you at all seasons, Serving the LORD with all humility of mind, and with many tears, and temptations, which befell me by the lying in wait of the Jews: And how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have shewed you, and have taught you publicly, and from house to house, Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.”
So when we think of tools, and training, and methods, perhaps we need to remember that “what can be perceived by the senses, but in such a way that the perception involves understanding” is our very lives! The folks who are called to work alongside the churches are themselves, by their lives, the tool for doing that work. Just as each saint is themselves, and more importantly, all of us saints collectively are, the living message of a God of grace, a God of love, a God of mercy, a people redeemed, unworthy’s being made righteousness yet enfeebled in this flesh.
We must stop and consider ourselves as tools, as vessels lovingly (even if with distress) being made fit for service.
Are we transparent, safe in grace, secure in His love? Are we humbled and emptied, are we abandoned to His mercy and grace? Do we really grasp the truth that our redemption from such great sin was a gift purchased at great cost, and that we are not our own? Do we have such deep faith we are not moved by trial of fire, but rather rejoice that He would stoop to mold and shape us? Do we know His joy so deeply that the world has no bait for us? Have we been engulfed in His love such that it pours from our voices, from our touch, from our eyes? These are the tools-the tools of every saint, and so much the more critical for every servant to the saints. Christ Himself must be able to shine out of our lives.
We must consider the cost so we won’t be discouraged. And consider the gracious privilege of receiving such molding.
Listen, I know we are fond of saying that salvation is free. And, it is, but that isn’t the end of it. It is free but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a cost to us. Tim and Sherman, and recently Tony, visited with men in Asia who had all been several times in prison for their faith. They know they will be in jail again. Their salvation is free, but it has a cost.
Sanctification is also something given to us, freely. We are “in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.” But listen, sanctification has a cost.
It isn’t that we earn sanctification any more than we earn salvation. We are not now made perfect by the work and strength of our flesh. But as we accept ourselves in Him, dead in His death, and alive now only to Him, we will deny ourselves what seems right to others. Just as He gave up His rights and riches, so will we. Just as He denied Himself the privilege of doing what He wanted and asserting His rights, so will we. When others are taking leisure, or seeking (foolishly, there is no certain security in this present evil world) to secure their present comforts and future care, we will seek to expend ourselves. We will be called foolish and reckless. God will arrange trials and difficulties, because we have begged Him to mold us into the image of His dear Son so that we might manifest His glory. Put on velvet gloves and pick up a rock. Try to shape it. Squeeze with all your might, brush it vigorously in your soft gloves to give it a new shape. We, who have cold stone for hearts, cannot be shaped so softly. Great pressure, great blows, piercing and shattering us–these are what our faithful Gd will do with us, and we will rejoice that He lavishes us with such grace. There is a cost.
Recall that passage in I Thess? As followers of Paul, as followers of Christ, they “received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost,” and so became examples to believers as far away as Macedonia and Achaia (I Thess 1:6-10). And we have James also, telling us to count it all joy “whenever you are enveloped in or encounter trials of any sort or fall into various temptations.” We have Paul and Silas, after being beaten and chained in prison, yet praying and singing praises to God at midnight. We may endure many hard midnights, but we will shine with the brightness of morning in the night if we understand He is at work shaping us in His image.
David tells us, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous” and Paul that, “All things work together for the good of [His followers].” Let us not walk past this: it is God doing the work through our present suffering to transform us, so we may be transforming agents. Go back and read those seven passages and see His hand being manifested–”God causes us to triumph in Christ; the Spirit of the living God writes in hearts; commending ourselves in the sight of God; that the life of Jesus might be made manifest in us; we trust your consciences are seeing/hearing the message we are; we have been made manifest”–none of this is from us, but through Him. (Read again II Corinthians 2:14; 3:3; 4:2, 10, 11; 5:11; 11:6.)
So let us not walk past this: it is God doing this. Go back and read those seven passage and see His hand- God causes us to triumph in Christ; the Spirit of the living God writes in hearts; commending ourselves in the sight of God; that the life of Jesus might be made manifest in us; we trust your consciences are seeing/hearing the message we are; we have been made manifest- none of this is from us, but through Him.
How dependent then we must be on Him. How completely abandoned to Him we must be. If Christ does not build us and the church we surely cannot do either ourselves. What place prayer must take. Fasting. Meditation. Yieldedness. Humility. Submission. We are cast into a battle we of ourselves have no weapons for, we cannot prepare for- our dependence is utterly on Him for victory and safety.
There will be “power” struggles; there will be men like Diotrephes, who “loveth to have the preeminence among them,” and who would not receive help from John, of whom John wrote, “Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he doeth, prating against us with malicious words: and not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth them out of the church.” Itinerants faced this sort of thing from the beginning, so don’t be alarmed.
We will be misunderstood, suspect, despised. The church is filled with dear saints who have sacrificed much, but who have also been misled to believe they are between God and the saints, and between any other servants and the saints, and many will, thinking they are only being faithful to protect the flock as they reject and fear our work. How will we have influence? By lives irresistibly spilling forth Jesus Christ. By submitting ourselves to every saint in love, and serving them faithfully, gently. Few have seen such folk. I’ve known only a few in almost thirty years. They will be called to pay a great price to, losing much they have invested. Who are we to ask this of them? Let me be honest–I know the retch that I am. I’ve got no business in this business at all. Of myself. How about you? Yet. Yet…
He is calling. His calling is our strength, for in it we have hope He is afoot and at work. No wonder, dear saint, you are feeling compelled to be answering “Here am I…” May many of us answer the same, having a desire for Him well up in our hearts that overpowers and overwhelms every other care.
Notice what Nee says about this point:
“In God’s church there is the eldership. Among God’s workers there is the leadership. Many people think that these positions are determined by age and gift, but they are not determined by age and gift. They are determined by a man’s consecration before God. The amount of consecration we maintain before God determines the degree of the manifestation of our position before Him. This manifestation is our only qualification to take the lead among the churches or the workers.”
-Watchman Nee, Collected Works Volume 61: Matured Leadings in the Lord’s Recovery (1), 1993, p.68
So when, we think of tools, and training, and methods (and especially organization and programs), perhaps we need to remember “what can be perceived by the senses, but in such a way that the perception involves understanding” is to be what our very lives demonstrate, not merely our words. McNeil (2000) points out the importance of modeling values to the post modern culture, “People want and need to see models of intentional living informed by biblical values and principles” (p.84). The King James Version may be dropping out of vogue, but interestingly it uses the word “conversation” to mean our lifestyle. That may be old English, but it is still true today that how we live our lives speaks volumes to others. How important we become genuinely transformed and embedded into Him.
In Antioch, they called the believer’s Christians, a word they made up to describe these followers who had become Christ-likenesses to the world around them.