The Ministry of the Apostle John (2)
By Titus Chu
The background of John’s writing was messy and discouraging. People everywhere were imposing teachings and practices on the churches. All these things were taking the place of what should have been the believers real focus—Christ!
This is why John wrote in his first epistle, “What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life…what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete (1 John 1:1, 3–4).
From the very first verse John brought the churches to consider Christ as the beginning, as life, and as the Word, or Logos. The Greek word “Logos” denotes Christ as the Word who carries out God’s economy and accomplishes God’s purpose. To know this Christ, we need to hear, see, look at, and touch Him. Then, out of such experiences of knowing Christ, we may have fellowship with one another, as well as with the Son and the Father. The fruit of all of this is joy.
This is a beautiful picture of restoration. John did not argue or rebuke. He did not get involved with what was right or wrong. He realized that without seeing what was best, people are not willing to give up what they already hold onto. Paul said, “When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things (1 Cor. 13:11). Only when Paul saw Christ could he give up the childish things of religion. It was the same for the believers in John’s time, and it is the same for us today.
The Manifestation of Life
John wrote, “what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us” (1 John 1:3). To be healthy, a church must firstly be properly related to the brothers whom the Lord has raised up to serve them, for the Lord’s servants are the lifeline of the churches.
No servant, however, has the right to dominate any particular church or group of churches. That is a shame. John mentions himself, but he also mentions others by using the pronouns “we” and “us”. Even if we have raised up a church, we do not have the right to tell that church they must follow us. If we have what they need, the saints will follow us anyway, but if we don’t, why should they? The churches themselves, however, must not cut themselves off from those that serve them. This can only lead to an unhealthy condition, and the saints will suffer.
According to John, we should receive all those servants of the Lord who focus on nothing but Christ, who dispense Christ, and who help the churches to gain Christ. Any other focus is unhealthy. If any stress their own ministries above that of others, something is wrong. Those who minister must only exalt Christ, and let Christ manifest their ministries. Such ministries are marked by the freshness of new beginnings, because Christ is “What was from the beginning.” When we are in the presence of Christ, we enjoy this beginning, and are refreshed with new beginnings. This is the primary mark of a minister.
The Lord Jesus is the One who is always fresh and new. His presence ushers us into the enjoyment of life, which is something of manifestation and testimony. What you see of something is its testimony. For instance, children are the testimony of their parents. If you want to see what kind of parent I am, there is no need to look anywhere but to my children. They manifest everything. In the same way, we may declare that we have the experience of Christ as our beginning, but where is the testimony of that beginning? If there is no freshness of life, there has been no fresh experience of Christ.
If we shout that we love Christ and have given ourselves to Him, dare we be examined? Those who serve the churches on behalf of the Lord should have a manifestation of life. Life has its testimony, and there is no way to fake it. If we have been exercised in the divine life, it will be evident. If not, that will also be evident.
In this life are all the riches of Christ. Even in the human life, various abilities come forth as we grow. This is how the human life shows forth its riches. A baby cannot do much, but all the potential of the human life is there. A lot will happen as that child grows. We cannot predict what exactly will become manifest, but we know something will. If this is true with the human life, how much more it is so when the God of the universe comes into us. The divine God with all His attributes and virtues now lives within us with all His operative abilities and eternal wisdom to fulfill His eternal plan. Everything He is develops from this life.
I know a brother who is now close to 40. I also knew him when he was a teenager. Today, he is able to do many things, such as preach the gospel, conduct singing, speak to young people, and take care of the saints. Twenty years ago, however, he barely had the life of Christ, and forty years ago he was simply kicking in his mother’s womb. Now, he possesses so much! In another forty years, who can guess how useful he will be, or how rich? He may develop great ability in expounding the truth, or in raising up churches. When I see him, I see both human and divine potential.
Every life has its potential. When God’s life develops, the richest things become manifest. His life gives us the ability to love and know God and His Word, the ability to love the church, to help the saints in the church life, and to stand firm for the Lord. When the Lord as the beginning comes into us, He becomes life in us. Every time there is a new experience of the Lord as the beginning, something more of God’s life develops.
I have served the Lord for many years. At my age, many tell me to slow down, and I could easily agree by telling myself that I have produced enough. Yet the Lord says to me, “More!” Everything is opening up more, and this has to do with the life of the One who is the beginning. We do not realize how rich the divine life in us is. I can testify that it supports us physically, spiritually, mentally, and provides us with spiritual understanding and revelation.
We should all desire a greater manifestation of the divine life within us. If we exercise properly, it will nourish us and develop all the potential it brought into our spirit. This manifestation will bring us to the Word, or Logos. Through the Logos, the divine speaking carries out the desire of God.
As we enjoy this divine life within, we have to stress the three things mentioned by John. First, we must acknowledge Christ as our beginning in everything. He desires to be our beginning in every matter we encounter, large or small.
Second, because we have so many such beginnings in our daily life, we should have a rich manifestation of life.
Third, as a church enjoys Christ as its beginning and manifests life, it becomes a testimony of Christ, and is thus able to carry out God’s economy.
We have life because we have Christ, who is for God’s economy. When we are for Christ, we will eventually be ushered into His operation for God’s economy, and this should effect us very practically. If we are choosing a college to attend, we will choose the one the Lord picks for us. If we take a job, it will be the one the Lord told us to take. If we are choosing a place to live, we will choose the place best suited for the church life. We know His choice because it makes us feel peaceful in our spirit. If we have no peace, we know something is wrong. This is how to live for God’s economy.
John tells that to have this reality we must first hear Christ. This is the start of our spiritual experience. Only after we hear Him will we have the desire for more, that is to see Him, look at Him, and touch Him. We may have heard of Christ, but once we hear His voice calling us by name we will begin to seek and follow Him (John 10:3-4).
See and Look At Christ
When we hear other people’s voices, we may still be some distance from them. To see them requires us to get much closer. But when we really care about others, we enjoy spending time with them so we can look at, gaze upon, and fully appreciate them. A father loves to look at his daughter. She is the apple of his eye. Every little detail is a delight to him.
Do we have a remote Jesus, or a Jesus who is close to us? Do we have a Jesus we observe from a distance, or a Jesus we get close to so we can gaze upon Him and appreciate every detail? If we have a Jesus we watch through a telescope, that is not enough. We need a Jesus that we are engaged with and delight in. Only when we look at Jesus in this way can we say He is so close to us. We will find Him trustworthy, and the One we can lean on. Only then we will love Him to the degree that we find it easy to give ourselves to Him.
People who have not looked upon Jesus have no thought of serving Him, because nothing of Him constrains them to offer themselves to Him. It is His beauty that compels people to give up other things in exchange for His presence. Therefore we must give ourselves to gaze upon Him!
In the Song of Songs, the lover was able to describe in detail Solomon’s hair, mouth, fragrance, and eyes, all of which refer to specific aspects of how the Lord speaks to us, how He unveils the heavenly things to us, and how He speaks strength and encouragement to us in times of trial. These are the kinds of things we should be able to testify concerning Christ.
The Bible is full of descriptions of our wonderful Christ. The more we enter into these descriptions, the more we become clear about who it is we live for. Focus on Him!
Even more, we must touch Him! There is no easy way to translate this Greek word into English. It is used in the New Testament to mean handle, grope, and infuse in such a way as to receive further infusing in response. As we touch Christ, He has a way to infuse us and bring us into His operation so that we move with Him. The problem is that when Christ initiates something, we too often do not know how to respond, and so the process is halted.
The Lord desires that we would handle Him all our lives. When a man pursues a woman he desires to marry, he must first invite her out for a cup of coffee and learn what kind of coffee she likes so he can get it for her. It is not enough to simply shout to the waitress, “Hey! Two cups of coffee here!” He has to know how to find out what satisfies her, and then cause her to feel that he cares for her. A woman’s agreement to marry a man doesn’t come quickly. It takes time, and the process is one full of fineness and consideration. Our pursuing Christ involves such handling.
As those who love and pursue Christ, we have to be so sensitive to His infusing. Whatever He does or reveals to us, we have to know how to respond so that the process can continue.That is the touching John speaks of. Concerning this, someone else’s experience cannot be ours. We must look upon and handle Christ for ourselves. Someone else may help us hear and see Him, but we ourselves must learn to look at and touch Him. That is the only way to get beyond religion. Touch Him! Handle Him!
Eventually we will advance in our experience of Him to the point where we can proclaim what we have seen and heard to others. When we proclaim something, it reveals what really possesses us. John’s declaration was backed up by the Christ He had heard, seen, looked at, and touched.
John’s declaration was “so that you too may have fellowship with us” (1 John 1:3). This is a hard lesson for us to learn. The church can never be cut off from the fellowship of the Lord’s servants. Even when the church is immature and doesn’t realize its need, the servants of the Lord will do whatever they can to bring that church into fellowship with them so that the saints can enjoy the mutual fellowship with the Father and the Son.
Joy Made Complete
When John began his mature ministry, many others were no doubt boasting about some relationship they claimed with Peter, Paul, or others of the apostles. In many cases, their motive was to promote themselves and gain a following. This should not be the case among us. Instead we should care about people coming to know Christ and growing spiritually in Him. If this is our motive, we will be desperate to hear, see, look at, and touch Christ, so that we may declare Him to others.
We must have the confidence that we know Christ and that He has put us together with others. We must have Him as our beginning, as our life, and as the One who is carrying out God’s economy. We must hear, see, look at, and touch Christ. Then, as we serve the Lord, we will be able to boldly declare Him and labor to bring all the saints and the churches we are with into this fellowship with the Father and with His Son.
Genuine servants of the Lord desire to usher the churches into fellowship with them and the other servants of God, and through that fellowship into fellowship with the Father and His Son Jesus Christ. How sweet this is! The fellowship that is generated is universal with God, His servants, and the churches. In this fellowship they together bear the Lord’s testimony. What comes out of this? Mutual joy! When the servants of the Lord are joyful, the churches are joyful, and when the churches are joyful, the servants are joyful. Both the joy of the saints and the joy of the servants are made full.
The Lord, the servants and the churches should be together as a golden triangle. Each supports the others to bear the Lord’s testimony. Each becomes the other’s cause for joy. “These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete” (1 John 1:4).