III. TO OVERCOME SPIRITUAL DEATH
Now we come to the church in Sardis. The church in Sardis signifies today’s Protestant churches. The Lord said that those in Sardis had a name that they were living, but in actuality they were not living; they were dead and dying (Rev. 3:1-2). This indicates that on the one hand, they had died, but on the other hand, their death had not been completed. This is the situation in today’s Protestant churches.
About two years ago, a number of leading ones in the denominations in the United States considered a proposal to evangelize the entire world. However, they concluded that they did not have the manpower, the personnel, to do it. According to recent statistics, there are approximately sixty- five million Protestant believers in the United States, which is more than one-fourth of the entire population. Even though the Protestant churches have sixty-five million Christians, they said that they did not have enough manpower. This is because in today’s Christianity there is no developing of the saints’ gifts in life, but there is an annulling, a killing of death, of the functioning of the members of Christ’s Body.
In a big denomination, only the pastor and his few assistants and helpers are active. All the rest of the members are considered as laymen. They have been busy with their occupations all week, so on the weekend they like to come to the Lord’s Day morning service to rest. All of them are accustomed to coming on the Lord’s Day to hear a knowledgeable, eloquent, and attractive speaker. They think that this is reasonable. Such a practice, however, kills the spiritual functions of all the attendants. This is why the Lord has led us in these recent years to promote all the saints prophesying (1 Cor. 14:3), speaking for the Lord.
According to God’s ordination, the practice of the church life is not with one man speaking and the rest listening. The church practice is what Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 14. In this chapter he says that we can all prophesy one by one (v. 31). We must pray that the Lord will develop our capacity, our ability, to speak for Him. All of us should be living members of Christ seeking to speak for the Lord and to speak forth the Lord in the church meetings for the building up of the church as the Body of Christ (v. 4b) in a living way. We should by no means be dead and dying. We may not be able to give a long message, but at least we can speak for the Lord for three minutes. We should seek to excel for the building up of the church (v. 12).
Today’s practice of one man speaking and the rest listening makes the church not only dormant but also dead and dying. Only a minority are working in today’s Christianity; the rest are dead and dying. We need to practice the church meetings according to what is revealed in 1 Corinthians 14. Verse 1 says, “Pursue love, and desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy.” Some opposers have said 1 Corinthians 14 was not written to all the saints but to a group of prophets. But verse 1 shows us that this chapter was written to all the saints. We all have to pursue love; we all have to desire earnestly spiritual gifts; and we all have to especially desire to prophesy.
If we do not speak for the Lord, this is a loss to ourselves, to the church, and to the Lord’s interest on this earth. The more we speak, the more we will have to speak, and the more we will receive for us to release. When we speak in a meeting, that meeting will be wonderful to us. The meeting was good to us because we spoke. But if we do not speak in the meeting, that meeting will be a poor meeting to us. The meeting was poor to us because we did not speak. When we prophesy we edify ourselves, we perfect others, and we build up the Body of Christ. If one hundred saints are meeting together on the Lord’s Day, and thirty exercise their spirits to speak for the Lord, this meeting will be very refreshing and living. This kind of prophesying will make the church living in every way through every member.
In the past seven and a half years, we have been stressing that we need to take the God-ordained way. We need to rise up to practice the New Testament priesthood of the gospel, preaching the gospel by visiting people regularly to get people saved. Then all the time we will have new ones baptized into the church life. If we practice the priesthood of the gospel, the entire church will be active and living.
Then we all have to bear the burden to feed the young ones, to nourish the new babes in Christ. If we labor in the Lord according to His ordained way, we will not have the time to gossip. We should not be the “information desk” of the church life. Instead, we should speak for the Lord by speaking the gospel to sinners, by speaking the nourishing word to the young ones, by speaking to perfect the saints, and by speaking to build up the Body of Christ.
We surely do not want to be in the condition of the church in Sardis. We want to be living and active in gospel preaching, in nourishing the new ones, in perfecting the saints, and in prophesying to build up the Body of Christ. We need the new ones in the church life. We need to nourish the new ones until they become remaining fruit in the church life. Then we should speak in the meetings, to set up a pattern for all the young ones to follow. Children learn how to speak from their parents. The church must be like this. Then from generation to generation all the young ones will grow and be perfected to do the work of the apostles, prophets, evangelists, and shepherds and teachers (Eph. 4:11-12). This will make the church very living, active, functioning, and working according to the Lord’s desire.
Thus, we have seen that we need to overcome persecution, to overcome worldliness by being transformed, and to overcome spiritual death by being living. We should be ready to suffer any kind of persecution. We also are destined to grow that we might be transformed to be built up. Furthermore, we have to be living. When we sing, we should sing livingly. When we pray, we should pray livingly. When we preach the gospel, we should preach livingly. Everything we do in the church life should be living.
I hope to see such a scene in the church life. When we come to the meetings of the church, we should not wait for the elders to begin the meeting. Anyone can open up the meeting. We can begin the meeting by singing a hymn or by praying. This proves that the church is living. If we are waiting for the leading ones to begin the meeting, this shows that the church is dormant, dead, and dying. Actually, the meeting should begin from our homes. When we are eating dinner, we can sing a hymn together, pray, and fellowship with one another. Then as we are driving to the meeting, we should continue to exercise our spirit to sing to the Lord, pray to Him, and praise Him. When we come to the church meetings in this way, this is a strong sign that the church is living. We are not dead, but we are in resurrection, speaking for the Lord in a living way to build up His organic Body.
(The Overcomers, Chapter 3, by Witness Lee)