INSTRUCTIONS FOR PRACTICING THE CHURCH LIFE
The full and complete instructions for practicing the church life are in these four books. They tell us how to set up the government of the church, how to appoint and establish the elders, how to arrange the church service as the responsibility of the deacons, and how to learn many things by exercise and teach them to others (1 Tim. 3:1-13, 4:6-16; 2 Tim. 2:2). Whereas the first section, the nine books from Romans to 2 Thessalonians, is full of teaching, definition, and explanation, there is not much instruction. The four books of the second section, however, present many instructions but not much doctrinal teaching. This may be compared to a class: After a professor gives a lecture, he instructs the students how to practice in the laboratory.
Paul’s Epistles to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon are full of instructions, not doctrines and definitions. In Romans there are not many instructions; mainly there are “lectures” with many definitions. It is the same with all the books through 2 Thessalonians. No doubt there are some instructions, but these books present mainly the definition and meaning of the church as the Body of Christ. The following four books give us the instructions on how to practice according to the definitions. Moreover, all the instructions in these books are very personal. Instructions given by an intimate tutor to his dear learners must be personal.
As to the church, we must first learn to know its life aspect. We must spend more time in the first nine books to experience what is taught and what is defined on the life side. Then, we must take care of another important matter, the practice of the church life according to the teachings of life. If we keep this in mind, the meaning of these four books will shine out when we read them.
EXERCISING UNTO GODLINESS
A key verse in these books is 1 Timothy 3:15, which gives us the main subject of this second section. First Timothy 4:7-8 are also key verses, speaking of our spiritual exercise. Verse 7 says, “Exercise yourself unto godliness.” Godliness includes all spiritual matters, all the things relating to God and to our relationship with God. All these spiritual matters require exercise. We have to exercise in prayer, exercise in the study of the Word, exercise to visit people, and exercise in how to talk with people. We also must exercise to know how to use the words of the Scriptures as weapons to fight the battle, how to conduct ourselves in the meetings, how to fast for the sake of prayer, how to know the inner life, how to discern the spirit from the soul, and how to know the hymns. Godliness includes many items; it includes everything relating to God and especially relating to our relationship with God. Although exercise unto godliness is a short phrase, it is very profound.
We should ask ourselves how much we exercise. In today’s Christian churches there is very little exercise. Some set up a seminary or Bible college for a small number of people to study the spiritual things, but with the church in general there may be no exercise. As a rule, what we see in many so-called churches is mainly the preaching of message after message without exercise. In the proper church life there must be the teaching and the exercise. This is the reason that after many years we have found the secret: We very much stress training. The church needs training. The way we take for the ministry in the church must include the way of the four books from 1 Timothy to Philemon, the way of exercise.
A brother who studied for his Ph.D. in chemistry told us that one lecture in class required ten times more work in the laboratory. His professor would say, “What is the good of a lecture? Listening makes you proud, but practice makes you humble.” This is a good proverb. If we sit and listen to someone speak year after year, we may think that we know everything, and we can easily criticize everyone. Because of this, no one would dare to minister to us. If someone comes to minister, we may just listen and criticize his word, his teaching, and his attitude. It is easy to know things, but it is difficult to put them into practice.
Instead of criticizing someone, we should try to do a better job than he does; then we will be clear, and we will be humbled. I have learned this secret. Whenever a brother or sister criticizes something, I do not argue. I simply say, “Very good, brother. You take the responsibility to do it.” If someone says the chairs are arranged wrongly or the piano is played poorly, we may say, “You are completely right. You come to do it.” When we try to practice something, we realize how hard it is. It is not easy to do things practically. The way to subdue those who criticize is to let them try to do the job themselves.
In the early 1950s, I gave the saints many teachings along the line of life. The same brother who studied chemistry suggested that we should put all these matters into practice, and that if we did not, the saints would have all these points in their mind but not in reality. I agreed with him and told him to carry this out. He spent much time to write instructions and to put all these lessons into practical form. Then he trained the leading ones of the small groups how to practice and how to bring the saints in their groups into the same practice. This truly worked, and it helped us very much. This is the right principle. We need to exercise unto godliness.
(General Sketch of the New Testament in the Light of Christ and the Church, A - Part 2: Romans through Philemon, Chapter 14, by Witness Lee)