THE MINISTRY OF LIFE
FOR THE BUILDING UP OF THE CHURCH
Throughout its history the church has always been divided by gifts. But it can never be divided by the ministry. If we focus our attention on the gifts, we will be divided within a short time. But if we forget about the gifts and pay our full attention to the ministry of life, we will always be kept in oneness. This is why we stress again and again that the gifts cannot build up a local church, but the ministry can.
If you are a Christian worker and you are always trying to argue with others, this proves that you merely have a gift. People with the ministry of life will never argue. Argument goes along with gifts and doctrinal teachings. If we pay our attention to gifts and teachings, we will argue. But if we focus our attention on the ministry of life, we will not have anything to argue about. Gifts and teachings with doctrinal debates and arguments tear down the local church. The local church can be built up only by the ministry of life. Some may not like noisy meetings, whereas others do. We should not debate about this. What we need is the life of Christ, not a certain kind of meeting. The ministry of life does not come out of the doctrinal study and teaching of the Bible. It comes out of sufferings. If you are really in the hand of the Lord, the Lord will form a ministry with you through all kinds of sufferings.
It is so strange and wonderful that there is nothing mentioned about the gifts in 2 Corinthians. Instead there is a list of Paul’s sufferings in chapter one, chapter four, chapter six, and chapter eleven. Then in chapter twelve he told us of such a subjective suffering—a thorn in the flesh. He asked the Lord particularly to take this away, but the Lord refused. There would be no miracle, no divine healing. Instead, there would be suffering. Through the suffering, Paul experienced the Lord as the sufficient grace, which was the perfect power in his weakness. Eventually, Paul learned to say, "I will rather boast in my weaknesses" (12:9). He also said, "I am well pleased in weaknesses, in insults, in necessities, in persecutions and distresses, on behalf of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am powerful" (v. 10). This is the way to have the growth in life so that a ministry might be produced for the building up of the Body of Christ.
What is needed for the building up of a local church is the ministry of life, not the gifts. In order to illustrate this point, I would like to tell a story about Brother Watchman Nee and an elder sister by the name of Miss Barber, who helped him very much. As a young man, Brother Nee always admired good speakers. When he and Miss Barber went to hear a few speakers, Brother Nee told her how wonderful they were. But Miss Barber would say, "That is just doctrine with human eloquence. There is no life there." In other words, there was no ministry with these ones.
Brother Nee told me this at the beginning of my service in the Lord because he was trying to help me to know the difference between a ministry and a gift, that is, between the utterance of something of life and human eloquence. A person may be born with the gift of eloquence, but his speaking may be merely sounding brass. It is nice for listening, but there is no content of Christ as life. Another may be awkward in his speech, but you realize that there is something weighty with what he speaks because he has the ministry of life. This can come only out of the sufferings. The building up of the church needs this ministry of life. We all need to continue in the growth in life that we may have more ministries among us for the building up of the church.
(The Experience of Christ as Life for the Building Up of the Church, Chapter 15, by Witness Lee)