THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN GIFT AND MINISTRY
We may illustrate the difference between gift and ministry by the example of Balaam’s donkey. One day the donkey of the Gentile prophet suddenly spoke with human language (Num. 22:28-30). Could that be called ministry? Certainly not! That was a gift. A ministry is the expression of what we are, while a gift is merely a performance. When you behold a man speaking, walking, and gesturing, you do not imagine that he is a horse or some other kind of animal. Since he is a man, whatever he does is just the expression of that man; that is his ministry.
Consider monkeys for example. Sometimes their trainers can entice them to perform like men, but that is entirely a gift or performance. In today’s Christianity there is much acting. Much of it is performance. If the apostle Paul were to visit us for one month, we would exclaim, "He is really what he ministers!" What he has seen has been wrought into his being; hence, what he ministers is what he is. The person is the message. Today we have those who are eloquent and learned, those who have degrees after their names, those who dress in a certain way, stand upon a platform, and with a certain tone deliver a sermon. That is merely a performance; it is not the ministry. The apostle Paul was different, and Watchman Nee was also different.
I was with Watchman Nee for years. He talked about the cross, and in him I saw the cross. He was a person of the cross. The sufferings he received from all directions were just the working of the cross, and the revelation he received concerning the cross was wrought into him. What he did in years past was not merely to teach or exercise a gift. I can testify from the depths of my being that what he did was a ministry; what he did was what he was.
For the building up of the churches, gifts are not as necessary as ministry. What Watchman Nee had was not merely a gift, but a ministry. He had seen something of God and these things were burned into him. Even his presence ministered life to people. His presence always meant a great deal in a meeting. If he was there, the meeting was rich; if he was absent, the meeting was not so rich. His presence, even his silent presence, made a difference. He had a real ministry. It was not his knowledge, his doctrine, nor his gift, but something of God wrought into his being so that his very presence in the meeting made a difference. Sometimes when the troubled saints brought their problems into his presence, there was no need for him to say a word; their problems were solved. In his presence they received the light they needed. His presence became their enlightenment, for God’s light had been wrought into his being. They saw light in his light. How much we need such a ministry in the church today!
Throughout the years that I was with Watchman Nee, I noticed how he continually belittled gifts. What he stressed over and over again was the need for ministry.
There are two Epistles in the Bible written by the apostle Paul to the Corinthians. The main topic in the first Epistle is "gifts," and it is mentioned negatively. In the second Epistle the main word is "ministry," and it is mentioned in a positive way. In the first Epistle Paul depreciated the gifts, and in the second Epistle he uplifted the ministry. In the second Epistle it is difficult to find the word "gift," but in the first Epistle it appears many times.
(Watchman Nee—A Seer of the Divine Revelation in the Present Age, Chapter 22, by Witness Lee)