I. THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN MINISTERING
TO THE HOUSE AND MINISTERING TO THE LORD
We must see clearly that outwardly there may not be much difference between ministering to the house and ministering to the Lord. You may try your best to render help to the brothers, to diligently save the sinners, and to labor much in the service to manage the church. On top of these, you may do your best to admonish others to read the Bible and pray. You may have suffered much and have been persecuted. You may do everything. But there is a basic question: What is your motivation for doing this? The question hinges on whether or not the Lord occupies the first place in your heart. When you rise up early in the morning to minister to the brothers and sisters, do you say, "O Lord, today I am doing this once again for Your sake"? Or do you first remember that this is your duty, and you do it because this is what you should do? If this is the case, it is altogether out of necessity, and it is not for the Lord. You only saw your brothers; you did not see the Lord. Your motive tells everything about your situation. Your situation hinges on why you do things.
Let me tell you very frankly: the work has areas that are appealing to the flesh. Brothers, let us take, for example, a person who is active by nature. It is his nature to speak a great deal. If you ask him to go to the countryside to preach the gospel, run to and fro from one village to another, and speak here and there, he is very happy. Why do you think he does this? He is basically an active person who loves to speak. I can tell you frankly that he is not doing this for the Lord because many times he is not able to do the things he does not like, even though the Lord really wants him to. According to his nature, he likes to preach the gospel; so he is happy to do it and feels that he is ministering to the Lord. Actually, he is ministering to the house. Brothers and sisters, there is a big difference here! In the Lord’s work there are areas which are interesting, adventurous, and attractive to the flesh! When you give messages, many flock to hear you. When you read a portion of the Bible, everyone comments that you have done a good job. When you preach the gospel, many are saved through you. This is really lovely and appealing to you. Just consider how interesting this is.
If I am doing housework, busying myself from morning till evening; if I am a worker in a factory, listening to the sound of machines from morning till evening; if I am an office worker, handling papers and letters from morning till evening; or if I am someone’s maid, cleaning tables, mopping floors, and cooking for others from morning till evening, I might consider this to be meaningless! But if I could be free from these things to do the Lord’s work, how good it would be! A sister may think it is dull to stay home and take care of the children, to be someone’s wife, and to do all the household chores! If she could be set free to speak of spiritual things here and speak of the Lord’s things there, how good it would be! But this is the attraction of the flesh and is not spiritual. It is solely for the pleasure of the self.
Oh, may we see that much of the labor and ministering before God is not ministering to Him. The Bible tells us that there was a group of Levites who were busily ministering in the house, but they were only ministering to the house, not to God. Ministering to the house is very similar to ministering to the Lord. Outwardly, there is almost no difference. Those Levites were in the house preparing the peace offerings and burnt offerings. This was a wonderful work. Suppose an Israelite wanted to worship God and offer up a peace offering and burnt offering, but he could not drag in the cattle or sheep. The Levites would help him drag in the animals and slay them. How good this was! They helped someone else be close to the Lord and know the Lord! Even today, it is a wonderful work to lead a sinner to turn or help a believer advance. While the Levites worked, they were very busy and their whole body was sweating. They helped others to carry out the offering of the cattle and sheep. Both the peace offering and burnt offering typify Christ. This means that they exerted their energy to bring others to the Lord. It is so wonderful that some could be brought to know the Lord. We know that the peace offering concerns the relationship between a sinner and the Lord, and the burnt offering concerns the relationship between a believer and the Lord. The peace offering speaks of a sinner’s drawing near to the Lord, while the burnt offering speaks of the consecration of a believer. In the Levites’ work, not only were sinners brought to believe in the Lord, but believers were also brought to consecrate themselves. How wonderful this work was. This was not a false work; it was altogether genuine. God knew their work. They were truly rendering help to others in offering up the peace offerings and burnt offerings. They were truly saving and helping men; they labored very hard. Nevertheless, God said they were not ministering to Him.
Brothers and sisters, please remember that ministering to the Lord is much deeper than leading men to the Lord. Ministering to the Lord is also much deeper than leading believers to consecrate themselves to the Lord. Ministering to the Lord is one step further than leading men to the Lord and leading believers to consecrate themselves to the Lord. In God’s eyes, leading men to the Lord and leading believers to consecrate themselves to the Lord are merely ministering to the house. Ministering to the Lord is something deeper. What do you see before God? Do you only see the need for the salvation of sinners? Do you only see the need to render help for the progress of believers? Or do you see something deeper? I am not here to save sinners; neither am I here to render help to believers. Can you say this? I fear very much that many would say, "If saving sinners and rendering help to the believers is not my work, what shall I do? I will have nothing to do." Friends, besides these, do you have other work? Oh, with many this is all they have. Many say, "If I did not do the work of helping and saving others, what would I do?" Apart from these things, they have nothing to do. Their work is confined to the house. If you take away these things, they will have nothing left to do.
Brothers and sisters, if you knew the heavy burden within me, you would know the goal of God. God is not after the outward, lively ministering. God is not after the salvation of sinners. God is not after gaining men or helping believers to be more spiritual or more advanced. God has only one goal: to have men belong absolutely to "Me." In other words, He wants us to be before "My" presence and minister to "Me." God’s unique goal is not in so many things. Rather, it is in "Me."
I say again, I am not afraid of bothering people. What I fear most in my heart is that many will come out to preach the gospel to help men, save sinners, and perfect the believers, yet not minister to the Lord! The goal of many so-called ministries to the Lord is none other than serving their own likes and pleasures. It is unbearable for them to be confined. They are energetic and must run around and be active in order to be happy! Although outwardly they are ministering to sinners and the brothers, inwardly they are ministering to their flesh! If they do not do this, they are not happy. Truly they are altogether not after the Lord’s pleasure. It seems that I am giving you a hard time, but this is the truth. Please remember, there are many areas in the Lord’s work that naturally attract us. However, this is truly damaging to us. When we see something naturally attractive in the Lord’s work, we go about doing it! What a pity this is! For this reason, we must pray to God to grace us that we may know what it is to minister to God and to the house.
I have a very dear friend who is already on the other side of the veil. She belonged to the Lord, and I loved her very much in the Lord. One day the two of us were praying on a mountain, and afterward we read the portion of the Word in Ezekiel 44. She was much older than I, so she said, "Little brother, twenty years ago I read this portion of the Bible." I asked her how she had felt after reading it. She said, "When I came to this passage, I immediately closed the Bible, knelt down, and prayed, `Lord, let me minister to You. Do not let me minister to the house.’" Brothers and sisters, I have not forgotten this incident, and I will never forget it. Although she has passed away, I remember her words all the time, "Lord, let me minister to You. Do not let me minister to the house." Can we pray such a prayer, saying, "Lord, I want to minister to You; I do not want to minister to the house"?
I fear very much that many lust for something of God yet do not want God Himself. Many think that saving souls is the most important thing, and they would give up their jobs to do this. The married sisters do not want to take care of the housework, the single sisters give up their consideration of marriage, and those who have a job do not want to work. They think that it is meaningless to continue doing what they are doing. They consider it irksome to work, take care of the family, serve, and study. They think that it would be wonderful if they could be released to preach the gospel. But friends, there are only two questions: Are you ministering to God? Or are you ministering to the house?
(Collected Works of Watchman Nee, The (Set 1) Vol. 11: The Present Testimony (4), Chapter 12, by Watchman Nee)