"THE WORD OF HIS POWER"
A Witness And A Testimony
"They obeyed the voice of the Lord their God, and the words of Haggai the prophet, as the Lord their God had sent him; and the people did fear before the Lord" (Haggai 1:12).
THE word of the Cross is the power of God, and in this verse we have read about a powerful word, the result of which was: "they obeyed" and "they feared". What was it they obeyed and feared? A powerful word from God. And what was that like? There were the words of the prophet, but there was something more -- there was the voice of the Lord.
THE VOICE OF THE LORD
There is one verse in the tenth chapter of the Gospel by John which we all know by heart: "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they, follow me" (verse 27). "I am the good shepherd ... My sheep hear my voice ... and they follow me." Here again is a powerful word, and when we hear it we follow the Lord, for it is His voice.
There is a word in Isaiah 55 which we often use falsely. In past days, when I have given a very cheap and thin message, I have given myself this false comfort: However, the word of the Lord shall not return void!, but Isaiah does not give us that comfort at all. The Lord says: "My word that goeth forth out of my mouth shall not return unto me void" (verse 11), and the question is not whether the word went out from my mouth (it always does!) but -- did it go out from the Lord's mouth? If it only comes out of my mouth you only hear my voice, and therefore the sheep do not follow the Lord. My mouth can give no powerful word at all. But if the word comes out of the Lord's mouth then the sheep hear His voice. Therefore always ask this question: Did my word go out from the mouth of the Lord? Am I the mouthpiece of the Lord? Only He is capable of a powerful word, for He speaks in the spirit of the Cross. When in John 10:27 the Lord says: "My sheep hear my voice", you cannot take that word out of its context. Four times before that verse He has said -- in verses 11, 15, 17 and 18: "I give my life for the sheep ... I lay down my life for the sheep ... No one takes my life away from me ... I lay it down of myself." I give My life, and then I speak -- and that is the voice of the Lord, that is the word of the Cross, and that is the word of His power. "I have power to lay down my life, and I have power to take it again." Therefore the Lord has a powerful word, and it is the word of the Cross.
THE MESSAGE AND THE MESSENGER
The Lord not only gave His message, but He gave Himself, and those two things always go together to make the word of the Cross. The messenger and the message are synonymous. That was the secret behind the power of the Apostle Paul. In Thessalonians he says: "We were well pleased to impart unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls" (1 Thessalonians 2:8). That made it a very powerful word, and therefore he continues: "When ye received from us the word of the message, even the word of God, ye accepted it not as the word of men, but, as it is in truth, the word of God" (1 Thessalonians 2:13). The Thessalonians heard the words of Paul and the voice of Jesus. They heard the word of the crucified One through one who was able to say not only: I was crucified with Christ, but "I am crucified with Christ" (Galatians 2:20). It is one thing to look back on the historic fact that the Lord Jesus took us with Him to His Cross and there we were crucified with Him, but it is another thing to be able to say in truth: I am , while I speak to you, crucified with my Lord. How can you give the word of the Cross without being on the Cross as you speak?
MINISTRY AND SERVICE
All this has to do with our conception of what ministry and service really are. What is service? It is not doing something for the Lord, but doing His will. Most Christians are ready to do something for the Lord, but I doubt whether we are all ready to do His will. The Lord Jesus has given us His own definition of ministry, of service, in John 12:26: "If any man serve me, let him follow me." That is all! Ministry, or service, is nothing other than obedience -- and obedience might well cost you everything, even your own life. I am sure that our dear brother Abraham was willing to do anything for the Lord except bring his son to Mount Moriah! Abraham might easily have argued with the Lord and said: I can serve You in many ways, Lord, and the Lord would have answered: There is only one way in which you can serve Me, and that is by doing what I tell you to do. Ministry, service, obedience and life are one and the same thing.
Here comes the word of His power. If Abraham had spoken a thousand words and preached wonderful sermons without going to Mount Moriah, then the people would have heard the words of Abraham but not the voice of the Lord. It would not have been the word of the Cross, and it would not have been a powerful word.
Here is the centre of things. The word of Abraham has power even today, and we can sense the voice of the Lord in it. That is because Abraham's word went forth out of the mouth of the Lord, and it did not return void to the Lord. That is ministry, and that is why those who have ears that can hear can easily discern the voice of the Lord when they listen. Two men can speak and give almost the same message, and with one you sense the voice of the Lord, but with the other you hear only the words of the man. In my country people speak a lot about power in these days, and many use all the power of their voices and think: Now my message is powerful! Abraham might have been able to cry out so loudly that they could have heard it back in Ur, but there would have been no power in that. When he went to Mount Moriah he did not even raise his voice, but the power of the living Lord, the power of the Cross, was there.
In Denmark we have a saying which goes like this: Empty vessels make most noise!
Are you full of the spirit of the Cross? That means: Have you followed Him? Then He Himself is speaking through you, and you are His mouthpiece.
I even know some dear Christian people who say: If I obeyed the Lord I would have to leave my ministry, and therefore I cannot obey! They think they must be disobedient in order to serve the Lord! And I know many who have this idea: If I did what the Lord tells me, I would lose everything -- but may I ask you this question: Has the Lord ever told you to keep anything? Only by our losing everything through obedience can the Lord speak through us. He Himself was obedient right unto death. What could He say on that Cross? He had lost everything. Therefore He could say everything in the power of the Cross, and that was ministry. Here was the true Servant of the Lord, here was the voice of the Shepherd giving Himself without reserve, and therefore being the mouthpiece of the living God. There is no bypass to power, but just the one narrow way leading right unto power -- the way of obedience, the way of following our Lord. He not only said: "If any man serve me, let him follow me", but He went on to say: "And where I am, there shall also my servant be" (John 12:26). We like to put that into the future, but where is the Lord today? Is He in a very popular place? Is He recognised by the so-called Christian people? Where is He? He is outside -- and "where I am, there shall also my servant be". Outside! But it is only as you are outside that you are able to speak the word that penetrates everything.
The Lord's ways are not ours. His ways of ministry are not ours. His thoughts are not ours. His ideas about ministry, service, are not ours. The Cross is, and remains, the centre of everything, even the centre of power, the centre of ministry, and so He says: No man can serve Me as he is, and no man can speak for Me as he is in himself. No man can serve Me if he follows his own ways and ideas. Will any man serve Me? Then let him take up his cross daily and follow Me! If you do that, the Lord will privilege you with the word of the Cross, and no other word is the word from the Lord. No other word comes out of the mouth of the Lord.
We are so grateful for every occasion when we have listened and have been able to say: This is the voice of the Lord! Let us not spoil that voice or that word. May the Lord give us grace to be obedient even unto death, and may He give us the word of His Cross! - P M.
THE POWER OF THE CROSS
"Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, was this grace given that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; and to make all men see what is the plan of salvation which from the beginning has been hid in God who created all things by Jesus Christ; to the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in the heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, corresponding to the eternal purpose which he fulfilled in Christ Jesus our Lord: in whom we have boldness and access in confidence by faith in Him. Wherefore I desire that ye faint not at my tribulations for you, which are your glory" (Ephesians 3:8-13).
LAST time we said that the word of the Cross is the power of God, provided it is spoken with the voice of the Lord, that is, in the spirit of the Cross.
If anyone contested that this statement was untrue and accused me in Court of lying, then I would call Paul as a witness and easily win my case!
A TREMENDOUS CHANGE
The Cross of the Lord Jesus Christ made a tremendous change in Paul himself. He had been full of pride, especially spiritual pride. Then he saw a man die and he heard the word of the Cross spoken in the spirit of the Cross, for Stephen said: "Lord, lay not this sin to their charge" (Acts 7:60). Paul's conscience was pricked, and from then onward he came under the power of the Cross; and the result was, as I have said, tremendous. He calls himself "less than the least of all saints", and this was not pious hypocrisy. Sometimes we just play at being humble, but Paul did not. When he said: "I am less than the least of all saints", it was no exaggeration, for he meant it. The power of the Cross deals a death-blow to our pride.
In his pride Paul had considered the heathens as dogs. Now he had received grace to preach among them "the unsearchable riches of Christ". Many of us have a hidden contempt for certain people, but if we have been exposed to the power of the Cross we will be ready to serve anyone anywhere. You remember the story of the woman who came to Jesus and asked Him to heal her daughter, and He answered: "It is not meet to take the children's bread and cast it to the dogs", but she said: "Yea, Lord: even the dogs under the table eat of the children's crumbs" (Mark 7:27-28). The best heathens would have been grateful for crumbs, but Paul gave them the unsearchable riches of Christ! When you have been exposed to the power of the Cross of the Lord you give to those whom you formerly despised much more than they themselves expect. Have you experienced in your own life this tremendous change from old to new?
A TREMENDOUS WORK
Paul experienced this tremendous change, but he also had a tremendous work to do: preaching the unsearchable riches of Christ. This, and not just preaching the so-called simple Gospel, is evangelization. You will never find the simple Gospel in the New Testament, and if you make the Gospel more simple than it is there, you water it down to nothing. I believe that there is not one word of the Lord Jesus which we have fully understood, and if we try to make the Gospel understandable for the natural man, then we misinterpret it. The Gospel is profound, and what we consider the most simple statement can never be understood by the natural man.
Paul did not try to make the Gospel understandable. He proclaimed the unsearchable riches of Christ; and because he did not try to do the Holy Spirit's work, the Holy Spirit could make the power of the Cross felt among the heathen when Paul preached. Many were saved, and then Paul began his essential work.
I think it was Oswald Chambers who said that it is hard work to bring a man to salvation, but it is one hundred times harder to make him a disciple. Paul was not only an evangelist, but also a teacher, and if you have been exposed to the power of the Cross you feel a real responsibility for the Lord's people. Therefore Paul, as the Danish translation says: "Enlightened them about the plan of salvation which from the beginning of the world had been hid in God as a secret." And that is hard work! It is a tremendous job and can only be done by a man who has experienced the tremendous power of the word of the Cross.
A TREMENDOUS PURPOSE
So after the tremendous change and the tremendous job, we have also a tremendous purpose, which was that the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to principalities and powers through the Church. Sometimes, when I have read these verses, I have thought: Paul, you were a fool! It is much more important that the manifold wisdom of God should be made known through the Church to men! If you had aimed at that, Paul, you could have rejoiced in having something to point to, something to show men as the result of your work. Principalities and powers are in the unseen world, but you should have shown men a wonderful Church, full of the wisdom of the Lord, a Church that would make people wonder and fall down in adoration! Out of a hundred workers for the Lord, ninety-nine would do as I have just suggested. When people come to me and ask: How many are you in Copenhagen? I would be happy if I could say: Twenty thousand; and we have elders, deacons, a modern office, a publishing company, twenty-five thousand subscribers and the most modern church building that you have ever seen. We have experienced the Lord in a wonderful way, and we have done a wonderful work for the Lord. Come along and see! This is the power of the Cross! Paul is a bit old-fashioned. He thinks only of unseen powers, but we are men of reality. We have something to point to. Oh, and I forgot to tell you that we have two hundred missionaries on the mission-field, and the offerings for the mission-field this year have topped all others years. Would all that not be the work of the Cross? Could anyone come and say that this was not the work of the Cross? Well, perhaps ninety-nine out of a hundred would agree with me, and only some odd people here and there would not be quite satisfied. They would ask me some questions in which perhaps I would not be very interested!
I shall not enlarge on this, because I have seen too many great things to be impressed. I am not quite convinced that principalities and powers are impressed with church buildings, with numbers, with deacons or with elders. Perhaps they have more to do with reality than men of today. They can penetrate through all these things into the hearts of men, and they can see how much there is of the wisdom and power of the Lord in us. And the more this dawns upon you, the less you can seek to create or organize the church by human means. The more you realize this, the more you lean on the Cross of the Lord, and on the power of that Cross. A man who has been exposed to the power of the Cross himself can never lay his hand upon the church and organize it along his own lines. He has a tremendous job, and that is, to suffer for the Church, and, by spiritual means, to help the Lord's children to see .
This, as far as I understand it, is in our days the great difficulty in and among the Lord's servants. There are some who are being exposed to the Cross in such a way that they work along Paul's lines, but they are the exceptions. Most say that it does not lead to any real result, and they believe in themselves more than in the power of His Cross.
Now I am in Court and Paul is my witness. He has brought much good evidence: a profound change in myself, a profound change in my conception of other men, a profound conception of the work to be done, a profound conception of the meaning of the Church, a profound conception of the calling of the Church, and all as a result of the power of the Cross. Then, as final evidence, Paul says: Only such a profound change in him and in his conceptions of men, in his intentions, in his understanding of the Church, corresponds to the profound work of our Lord Jesus on His Cross. There He cried: "It is finished!" The Lord is not in need of human strength, wisdom and effort, for what He has done is sufficient. If you now say to Paul: All this is too big for me! he would answer: I have not said this to paralyse you. No, God fulfilled His purpose in Christ Jesus our Lord: in Him we have boldness and access in confidence by faith in Him.
Our calling is great, but we are not paralysed. We have boldness and confidence through faith in our Lord Jesus. We enter into the holiest of holies through faith in Him, and in that place there is no room for human energy or fleshly wisdom at all. With confidence we look into the face of our Lord and say: We are Thine, O Lord. We have faith in Thee, O Lord. We have no faith in ourselves, Lord. We do not believe in our own wholeheartedness. We do not believe in our own dedication. Our faith is in Thee, and in Thee alone. And now we identify ourselves with Thee, and whatever the price may be, we shall not go back to our own ways and our own ideas. Use us as Thou dost want. We will take up our cross daily, follow Thee and obey Thee, whatever the cost may be. Then the Lord has a free hand and He builds His Church, not to display it before carnal men that they should admire it, but in truth and reality, so that even principalities and powers may recognize that this is of God.
It can be done, and it shall be done! - P M.
THE PRACTICAL OUTWORKING OF THE WORD OF THE CROSS
IN our first message we considered the word of the Cross and found that it is the power of God. Next we considered that there is only one voice in the universe that can bring us the word of the Cross, and that is the voice of the Good Shepherd. That voice can be recognized in every one of the Lords servants who truly follows Him; otherwise we only hear the words spoken, and, though they may be true, we do not recognize the voice of God. Then we considered the results of the preaching of the word of the Cross, and found that they are very profound. The word of the Cross creates a deep change in the man who is exposed to it, a change from spiritual pride to true humility, from contempt of men to Divine love for even the basest of them; it gives him a profound work to do for the Lord; and it gives him a profound conception of the Church of Christ and its calling.
But someone might now ask me this question: Could you not give us some practical advice in order that we may experience all this? We like the truth of it all, but what can we do to get a true experience corresponding to the truth that we see and understand?
The Apostle Paul gives us three pieces of very good and very practical advice, which we will now consider.
1. "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly" (Colossians 3:16)
Notice what Paul says -- "Let the word of Christ ..." What does he mean by that? Does he not mean the word of the Bible? Then why does he not say so? Because of his own experience! Before his conversion he knew the Bible; the word of the Bible dwelt richly in him and he used it greatly -- to kill as many people as possible! Now he does not want to repeat that experience, nor does he want the Church to repeat it -- but the Church has repeated it, over and over again. My experience is that no one can be as cruel as Christians can, especially when they think they know the Bible. I cannot tell you how many dear old saints have come to me and told me what is in the Bible! They bang their fists on the table and say: It is in the Bible. Why don't you do it? I have met that again and again, and these people are convinced that they are right and that they are doing right.
You see, the Bible can be used in a literal sense -- its "letter" bereft of its spirit -- and "the letter killeth" (2 Corinthians 3:6) -- and the Christians killed one another gladly in the name of the Lord! They did it in order to build the Church. But this is what we spoke of in our second message -- the word, but not the voice. Thus, when a strong Christian enters your room and says: "This -- or that -- is found in the Bible, so you must do it and organize your church along that line", just give him this answer: Dear brother, I give you a fortnight to examine yourself before the Lord to find whether the spirit of 1 Corinthians 13 is found in your heart and in your mouth. Will you please read that chapter once a day, or even once an hour, for fourteen days, and then come back to me and tell me, not what is in the Bible, but what the word of Christ is. Never enter into an argument with strong Christians! They are much too clever. They have examined the Bible and know everything about it, but they have never given the Bible a chance to examine them, and, therefore, the word of Christ does not dwell richly in them or among them. So they gladly kill the Lord's servants and destroy the Church, thinking they are serving the Lord.
The word of Christ is the word of the Cross, and if the Bible has not become the word of the Cross to you, you run the risk of destroying and killing, instead of giving life and health. All strong Christians run that risk. They use the word of the Bible and do mighty things for God. They can bring into being great movements which grow and increase and they can point to the Word as that which supports all they do and say, but God never gave us the Word as a weapon with which to fight for the truth. If you want to fight for the truth, all you can do is to give your life, and that is the best weapon. It is easy to take the lives of others: that is the spirit of the Inquisition -- fighting for truths by taking the lives of others and using the Word of God in support. But the Inquisition has not stopped, and it is not confined to the Roman Church. The spirit of the Inquisition can be found in any strong Christian. If the Lord has really revealed His truth to you, He has not done it in order that you should take the lives of others, but that you might have the honour of giving yourself, your own life, in defence of the truth. That is the word of Christ! "Father, forgive them! ..."; "I lay down my life ..." Let that word dwell richly in you!
The Lord Himself said a profound and wonderful thing about this word: "The words that I have spoken unto you are spirit, and are life" (John 6:63). Have you ever thought about that? When that word of Christ is given it not only describes spirit and life, but it is spirit and life. It creates what it says. You see, the word of the Bible as such can describe life for you. It can describe what ministry is. It can describe the Church. But it cannot do more than give a description, and therefore people have themselves to do what they have seen described in the Bible. That is the reason why so many try to make a New Testament Church. Strong Christians have told them, with their Bible in their hand, how things ought to be. (And may I, in parenthesis, give you a piece of very naughty advice? When you meet a very strong Christian who says: Submit to what I say! make your neck as stiff as possible!) Those strong Christians can give you a wonderful description of how things should be and will fight anyone who stands up against them, but they do not create anything. They simply leave this description of how things ought to be with those over whom they have had any influence, and then expect them by their own means to work it out.
But the word of Christ, the word given through broken men, gives much more than a description. The living Lord, the Creator of all things, speaks through them, and He does not operate like an artist giving a description. He operates as a Creator, and His word is spirit and is life, and it is only through that word that the work of the Lord is being done and the Church is built.
"Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly." What is the result of that? It is that you teach and admonish one another in all wisdom. Can you sense the difference between an atmosphere where the word is used as a hammer, and an atmosphere where the word of Christ is being heard? Where the word of Christ is there is also wisdom, Divine wisdom, and that leads us back again to the Cross, because the Cross of Christ is the wisdom of God; and in the spirit of the Cross we can speak about everything, loving one another, paying respect to one another, and seeing truly that the other one is greater than we are. In that spirit we can teach and admonish, and Christ is at work in that atmosphere; He builds His Church in that atmosphere; and there is a note of true, deep joy, even happiness, in that atmosphere, so that Paul speaks of "psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts unto God." (And now comes another piece of naughty advice! When a very strong Christian comes to you and says: This is in the Bible and you must do it, say to him: Dear brother, let us start with five of Sankey's hymns!) Well, if the Lord's children cannot sing together, then they cannot teach one another anything at all. "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly."
2. "And whatsoever ye do, in word or in deed, do all it the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him" (Colossians 3:17).
This is just the same thing, but it is said in different words. It is the result of the working of the Cross in any man who exposes himself to it, which means that he does not do anything any longer in his own name, that is, in his own strength and energy. He does not even speak about the Lord or teach others in his own name. The more certain you are of your own position, the weaker you are, for our strong points are always our weak ones. If you are very certain and quite convinced that you are right, then you will speak in your own name. You do not even have to look to the Lord, for you know everything. You know the Bible, so you speak freely in your own name, and you are quite convinced that, with the Bible in your hand, you are doing the work of the Lord. But the more certain you are of a thing, the more you need to depend upon the Lord, for you might misuse the thing you know.
Therefore it says in this profound verse: "Do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him", and this thanksgiving means very much. It is not formal; it is thanksgiving from a soul who is dependent upon the Lord and knows that he must receive every word from Him; and therefore he thanks the Lord for it. It is an expression of humility in the deepest sense: I am not worthy, Lord, to speak for Thee, so I look to Thee and if, Lord, Thou shouldest say: "Don't speak!" Thou knowest, O Lord, that I dare not open my mouth. I can only speak in Thy name, giving thanksgiving, praise and worship for being allowed to speak for Thee.
3. "Continue steadfastly in prayer, watching therein with thanksgiving " (Colossians 4:2).
That, again, is just the same thing, but expressed in another way. It is an expression of total dependence upon the Lord, day and night -- for what is prayer? Is it your mastery over God, or is it His mastery over you? If you are a strong Christian, with the letter of the Bible in your hand, you use prayer to serve your own ends, but you are convinced that you fight for the Lord. But if you are exposed to His Cross, then you continue in prayer, and watch, that is, you seek the Lord's mind. You watch and look to the Lord, seeking His will, His mind, His way and His means.
I am sure Paul had a smile in his eyes when he continued: "Withal praying for us also." He started by saying: Watch and pray with thanksgiving, and then he said: Pray also for me, but he did not say: with thanksgiving! But if these [55/56] people had the mind of the Lord they would pray for him with thanksgiving.
Can you see the difference? On the one side there is the great and strong Christian telling you the truth, convinced that he is doing the very thing that the Lord wants, praying for you with all his power and might; and, on the other side, there is the man of the Cross, meeting you with the word of Christ, and praying for you with thanksgiving. Which of the two is the Lord's servant? At which of them do you think the powers and principalities tremble? Who is building with wood, hay and stubble, and who is building with gold, silver and costly stones?
I trust that all of us can see on which side we would like to stand. If you would like to stand on the side of him who is the man of the Cross, then bow down before your Lord and give Him time to speak to you. Never make Yourself the instrument of a man's programme, but become, and remain, a slave of the Lord. This, too, can be done, and it shall be done but only through Him! - P M.