SEEKING TO KNOW AND EXPERIENCE THE LORD
First Corinthians 12 tells us that all the members should seek the gifts and ministries. God’s intention is to have special members fulfill special ministries, using them as channels for the Lord’s life to flow into the Body and to increase the measure of the Body through them. When the life we receive from the Lord flows into the Body, the measure of the stature of the Body increases. God increases the measure of the stature of the Body through the members. Madame Guyon, Mrs. Penn-Lewis, Brother T. Austin-Sparks, and others are members who have a special knowledge of Christ. Through these ones God has dispensed many riches of life into the Body. Every member should learn and know something specific before the Lord so that each one can have a specific ministry. Without a ministry, it is useless to talk about gifts. Many people stress gifts, as though gifts constitute our ministry. But our ministry is Christ; our gifts are only the means by which we minister. Two persons may use the same kind of spoon to feed a child, but whether or not the child is well-nourished will be determined by the substance in the spoon, not by the kind of spoon. We do not impart our gifts to the church; we impart Christ. Our gifts are merely the means by which we impart Him. What we minister to the Body is Christ, and what the Body receives is Christ, because Christ is all and in all in the Body.
Specific ministry comes when we receive special experiences, particular dealings, and particular discipline from the Holy Spirit. Such experiences, dealings, and discipline result in specific knowledge of Christ. With this knowledge we serve the church through the exercise of the gifts. We need to receive power from the Holy Spirit and serve the Christ we know to the church through the operation of this power. The whole matter of our ministry is a matter of life. We do not despise gifts, but it is ministry that directs the gifts, not gifts that direct the ministry. If we have a gift without first having a ministry, we will be led away by the gift and not be able to render help to the Body. What the Body lacks today is ministry, not gift. We must first discover the specific ministry that the Lord has appointed to us. Only then should we seek for the gifts to equip us to fulfill that ministry.
FIRST LIFE, THEN DOCTRINES
Our service in the Body of Christ is based on our knowledge of Christ. This knowledge comes from our experience of life, not from doctrines. God first gives us life and then doctrines. Life comes first, and doctrines follow. The Bible shows us that Abraham had a special contribution for the Body along the line of faith. This did not come by a teaching he received concerning faith, and it was not brought about by him communicating a doctrine to others. Instead, it came about by Abraham being brought into a set of circumstances in which he learned to trust God. What was wrought into him through the fires of affliction was eventually ministered by him to the whole Body for its enrichment. First there was the life and lesson of faith and then the doctrine of faith. How did Martin Luther become competent to teach the church concerning the truth that "the righteous one shall live by his faith" (Hab. 2:4)? He did not become competent by diligently studying the Bible as a textbook and then communicating the knowledge he had acquired; rather, he became competent through much suffering and affliction. When his knees were worn from kneeling and his hope for justification was gone, the Lord revealed to him in a living way that a man is justified by faith. After he had this experience, he gained the doctrine of justification by faith. Doctrine is necessary, but doctrine should follow experience, not precede it. First there should be life, and then doctrine should follow. First there should be the experience, and then there should be the teaching. The order of the New Testament is first the Gospels (facts) and then the Epistles (doctrines). First, we have the life of Christ, and then we have the teachings of Christ. We should not spend all of our time studying, analyzing, and investigating a doctrine; these are works of reeds and will fail when the test comes. The only thing that is useful is what God has wrought in us, and only this can render supply to others. The only way we can communicate to others in a living way is to communicate that which we have learned through experience. Discipline, suffering, and trials are the means for God to constitute the word into us so that we may have something to give to the Body. If we want to be ministers for the building up of the Body of Christ, we must not shrink from any trial, discipline, or dealing.
(The Mystery of Christ, Chapter 11, by Watchman Nee)