I was finishing off reading the last chapter of The Character of God's Workman
(CFP white cover) by Watchman Nee...
Other Matters to Be Dealt With
By way of concluding our study on the character of God’s workman we would like to mention some other matters which every one of the Lord’s workers must deal with before God. These are: (1) maintaining the absoluteness of the truth, (2) caring for one’s physical well-being, (3) not having undue concern about one’s personal lifestyle, and (4) understanding such problem areas as virginity, marriage, and so forth.
A person who does the Lord’s work must stand for the absoluteness of the truth. This naturally demands total deliverance from his own self. Many brothers and sisters are not completely loyal to the truth because they are affected by human relationships and their own emotions. Hence a basic requirement in the service of God is that truth must not be sacrificed. I can sacrifice myself and my emotions but not the truth. The difficulty with a number of workers lies in their concern about friends, acquaintances, relatives or families, and which in consequence may adversely affect their loyalty to the truth. God cannot use such people. For if truth be truth, nothing—not even one’s own brother or relative or friend—can touch it.
Take, as an example, an instance in which the son of a worker asks for baptism. Realizing that this is a matter which concerns the truth, he should leave the case with the responsible brothers in the local church and let them decide if his son is ready for baptism. Many a time, however, the worker will take the position that his son is ready and should therefore be baptized. Thus a problem is caused due to this worker’s lack of absoluteness towards the truth. He brings into the picture his father-and-son relationship. If he were truly absolute here, he would let such matters in the church be decided by the dictates of the truth. He would not act according to human relationship.
Another example can be given. If a strife should occur in any given assembly, people may be inclined to take sides according to their friendships or family relationships. They do not sit down, as they should, and weigh the absoluteness of the truth that is involved; instead, they follow the leading of their affection. This does not mean that they might totally neglect the truth, but it does show that they cannot be completely loyal towards it. To be absolute towards the truth in spiritual matters means that no personal feeling, friendship or human relationship can be allowed to influence the truth. For just as soon as human relationship comes into play, the truth shall no longer be upheld Any addition of man’s word diminishes the verity of God’s word.
In the Bible there are recorded many decisions and commands of God which need continually to be proclaimed by His servants. We abhor the fact that there are those who are always proclaiming the impossible; but on the other hand, can anyone be a servant of God if he never preaches anything beyond his personal capability? Since the truth is absolute, no one should ever lower the word of the Lord because he himself has not reached that height. No one should alter God’s word due to his own deficiency. On the contrary, sometimes you must speak ahead of what you are, far beyond your personal feeling or relationships. This is indeed a tremendous demand placed upon a servant of God. You cannot deal with your family members in one way and the other brothers and sisters in a different way. For the truth is absolute, and the Lord wants us to maintain its absolute character. Whatever God’s word says must be equally applied to all people. You should not act differently because of any special relationship. To do so would be to lower the truth of God. This is not to say that were you to do so you would be totally untrue, but it would show that you were not being totally loyal towards the truth. Let us therefore learn to maintain this absoluteness. We must not compromise because of any human relationship. For we follow the truth, we do not follow man.
Many difficulties arise in the Church when the truth is sacrificed. Here, for instance, was how a division occurred in one local assembly: one brother said, “We had no intention of separating from you, but since you failed to inform us last night on a certain matter, we have now decided not to meet with you again.” Yet the truth being absolute, it needs to be said to that brother that it really has nothing to do with his and the others with him being informed or not, because any separation that is perpetrated on that basis is automatically putting forward man in the place of truth.
Take as another example the case of how people at a certain place had expressed their desire to break bread separately. The reason given was that a brother asked a question at a meeting and it was not answered. Yet, whether one breaks bread together or separately must be a matter that is based on truth. If it is the latter, then it can have nothing to do with anyone’s being well-treated or ill-treated.
Oh, let us understand most clearly that before we can serve God, this “self” of ours must be rooted out. If our keeping the word of God depends on the treatment we receive, we put ourselves ahead of divine truth. This comes about simply because we have pride and selfishness in us. We consider ourselves to be more important than the truth of God. How can we serve the Lord under such condition? In the way of God’s service, we must totally deny our own selves. Whether we are pleased or hurt in a given situation is a consideration that is completely out of the question. It ought to make no difference how we feel or how we are treated. We cannot bend divine truth to follow our own feeling, for how boldly presumptuous we would be if we should cause God’s truth to follow us!
We should see the glory of God’s truth and never try to bring our personal feeling into it. How do we stand when compared with the truth of God? It is not that we are smaller than the truth, but that we are absolutely nothing in comparison to it. A tiny touch of self will most certainly damage the truth.
One brother happened to hear much criticism being leveled against a church assembly, but at first he considered it to be groundless. He subsequently paid a visit to that assembly. While in their midst, however, he touched only some of the brethren there without really touching the truth before God. He was actually quite careless in his conduct. One day, a brother in that assembly pointed out to him his earlier loose conduct based only on certain facts. This action by that brother was taken by his speaking the truth to him in love. Whereupon, he who had at first considered the earlier criticism of this church to be groundless now reacted by speaking disparagingly of this assembly. All this simply reveals the fact that this over-reacting brother was not absolute towards the truth; for had he been absolute, he would not have changed his attitude towards the church assembly in question simply because of the reprimand he had later received.
What is meant by the absoluteness of the truth? It means that no consideration of personal affection, relationship, experience or self-interest will intrude upon one’s view and application of the truth. It means that none of these things is or can be involved in it. Since truth is absolute, yea is yea and nay is nay.
There was once a brother who had helped many people. He later walked in the way of maintaining the testimony of the church. Whether or not this way is right is not affected by the manner of his or anybody else’s walk. His walking in this way of the testimony of the church does not make it right. Even if he should fall, this way is still right. And why? Because the truth is absolute. Unfortunately, the eyes of many were upon this brother. They simply assumed that he being right, that way must also be right. Or if he is wrong, that way must also be wrong. So what did they look at? At the truth or at the brother? It is obvious that it was the latter. Now, of course, this is not to suggest that anyone can be careless. We should indeed not be careless, for we must maintain the testimony of God. This is a fact. Even so, whether this way of the church is right or not is a matter to be judged by truth, not by man nor by the way man walks. Can we stop being Christians simply because some other Christians have sinned or fallen? Ought we to deny our faith merely because God’s children are bad? Not so, for the truth is absolute. If the Lord is worth believing, we will believe in spite of the failure of fellow-believers. Though others may disbelieve, we will nonetheless believe. For the determination of the issue involved does not lie with the people but with the truth. The divisions in the Church and the many strifes in the work would all disappear if we would eliminate our personal feeling and relationship.
The absoluteness of the truth is not a small matter. We cannot afford to be loose here, because if we are lax in this matter, we will be lax in all matters. We shall be able to hold fast to the truth if we lay down ourselves; but without such a determination or habit before God, we shall sooner or later fall apart. Someone may thank the Lord for the helps he has received in a local church meeting. Yet this does not necessarily prove that he is clear about the absoluteness of the truth of the church and its testimony. Perhaps he only feels comfortable in that meeting. Wait, however, till he encounters something disagreeable to him; he may then feel quite differently about the meeting. Nevertheless, the truth still remains absolute. Whether or not the meeting is legitimate in his view should not depend on his treatment. If his treatment—whether good or ill—decides for him the legality of the meeting, then he becomes the most important person in the whole world! For in that case, truth is not important; he instead becomes most important. And consequently, he would not be absolute in his loyalty towards the truth. Herein lies much of the trouble in the Church.
God expects us to deal with ourselves to such a degree that we are able to set ourselves aside in any matter. In that event our personal feeling, pleasure or hurt will not create any difficulty. The direction of our course ahead is not to be governed by our personal feeling. If God says yea, it is yea; and if God says nay, it is nay. If He says this is the way, we will walk in it, even though no one else may so walk. We walk not because there is much excitement in the way, nor because some other brothers are walking in that way. We walk simply because this is the right way and the truth is held to be absolute. Nobody can be permitted to influence us, for if we allow anybody to do so, we shall then make this or that person bigger than the truth.
Judgment is also based on truth, and not on ourselves. If judgment should ever follow our personal taste, we shall have degraded the truth and the way of God. The foundation of God’s judgment is the truth. In judging any situation, we look not at the way people treat us but look exclusively at the truth of the Lord. In the work of the Lord, we never allow our personal feeling and interest to become involved. If truth commands separation, we will separate even from our best friends. Though we may daily eat together and live together, yet because of the absoluteness of the truth we will separate ourselves in spite of human affection. And by the same token, if the truth demands that we be together, then no matter how we brush and strive against each other we will still stay together. Should our being together be based on personal relationship, it is an indication that we do not know what the truth is. It will then be hard for us to finish the course set before us.
This that we have been discussing is a most fundamental issue. Our future depends on our learning the discipline of God. Truth will suffer at our hands if we regard ourselves as so big and important. In order to maintain the truth of the Lord, we ourselves must be set aside. Each one of us has his temperament and feeling. Let us not allow these to affect God’s truth. No minister of the Lord can sacrifice or debase the truth of God to soothe his own feeling. If we disdain God’s truth, we have no spiritual future before Him. A judge on the bench maintains an absolute attitude towards the law. He will pronounce guilty to the sinful and not guilty to the innocent. On the one hand, he cannot reckon the sinful as sinless simply because the latter might happen to be his brother or close friend. On the other hand, a judge cannot condemn a guiltless person merely because the latter happens to be his enemy. Otherwise, these kinds of judgment would create disorder in society. A judge must therefore support the law. Similarly, we who believe in God and serve Him must support His truth and His law. No personal feeling is to be involved. May we never ever forget this point.
All of us need to be dealt with by the Lord. Let us say to Him, “Lord, I am nothing, but Your truth is everything.” This being the case, there will be no difficulty in the work. If all fellow-workers can maintain the absoluteness of the truth there will in consequence be a great advantage, in that we can all speak frankly and things can be easily done. A matter that should be done will be done without the fear of incurring blame from other workers. What decides everything is the will of God. Is this His decision? If it is His will and He so desires, then we need not consider anything else. But if we do not see the truth as absolute, we shall find it difficult to move forward; because whenever something arises, all will be thinking what the others will say; with the result that we shall look for a compromise, and in the process the truth shall suffer because of us. Moreover, there shall be many words we will not dare to say and many matters we will not dare decide for fear of offending other people. And thus we shall find ourselves in great trouble.
Any church fellowship that supports the truth of God and rejects human politics is blessed. The brethren in such a fellowship as this do not play politics nor negotiate for a compromise. Quite the contrary, on the path of absoluteness in truth, all dare to speak and act as required: they look only at the will of God in their decision.
Now if such in fact be the case there, that fellowship shall truly be blessed of the Lord. Otherwise, personal considerations will come, politics will be played, many compromising changes will occur, and the church local will no longer be the church.
All this needs to be carefully laid out before God, because this is a great and grave issue. No personal feeling and affection should be brought into the work. Even if you should be aware that your personal affection would be able to effect people’s acceptance of the truth, you should still not bring it into the work. For instance, it would not be right for you to entertain a guest with a view to influencing him as to the truth, for although it might be a good will gesture on your part to give support to the truth in this manner, we believe the truth needs no human hand to support it since God’s truth, being absolute, has a position, authority and power of its own. And therefore the truth does not require our help to advance its cause. We should therefore never be afraid that the truth, being rejected, is accordingly defeated; for in the end it shall prevail—and without any help on our part. Our responsibility is simply this: we must learn to respect God’s truth, walk in the truth, and never compromise the truth. Amen.
Another of these final matters is how a worker should take care of his body. We know Paul was a brother greatly gifted, and he often healed the sick through prayer. Still, he mentioned three persons whose sickness was never healed. One was Trophimus, a second was Timothy, and the third was himself.
When Trophimus was ill, Paul did not pray for his healing, nor did the apostle exercise his healing gift. He instead said, “Trophimus I left at Miletus sick” (2 Tim. 4.20a). Timothy had stomach trouble and was often ill. Again, Paul did not use his gift nor did he pray for healing. We know he healed many sick. So if he healed the others, why could he not heal Timothy? This younger servant of the Lord was to continue the work of Paul and was most useful, but Paul still did not heal the sickness of Timothy. For this thing was in the hand of God, not in Paul’s hand. So what did the apostle say? “Be no longer a drinker of water, but use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake and thine often infirmities” (1 Tim. 5.23). In other words, Timothy should take more care of himself: he should eat what was profitable to the body, and refrain from eating anything disagreeable: he should drink what would lessen the stomach trouble and not drink what would increase his trouble. These were the recommendations made by Paul to Timothy. And as for Paul himself, he had “a thorn in his flesh” for which he asked the Lord three times that it be removed. Yet the Lord did not see fit to heal him; He only said to him, “My grace is sufficient for thee” (2 Cor. 12.9a). Trophimus was left sick; Timothy was left with his stomach ailment and his other frequent infirmities; and Paul’s thorn remained in his flesh.
It requires ten to twenty years for a person to be so trained by God as to be considerably useful. It really needs such a long period for one to be matured in the way of the Lord. But due to lack of knowledge in caring for the body, some may die before there is sufficient time for training. Or some may die just after they have touched the way of God and become truly useful after years of training before Him. All this is most regrettable.
In the churches, there should not be all children, or all young people. The churches need fathers. For this reason, all who learn to serve God must consider this matter of the care of the body. How sad if a brother or sister dies before reaching an appointed age after he or she has been trained for some time! We know many are cracked and broken at midway, just as sometimes clay becomes marred in the hands of the potter. As the potter turns his wheel, not all vessels come out to perfection bereft of any flaw. Some of the earthen vessels are marred in the making before they ever go through the fire. That is a loss. The Church loses many members because they cannot pass such testings. They fall as soon as they meet temptations. If by the mercy of God we are not marred or broken, we may still need the working of the cross in our lives to make us even more useful. A trial coming from the Lord may require a long time for us to get through. It may take a year or several years. The number of trials in the life of a child of God is rather limited. We do not have many opportunities to be tested. Many crack or break down at a time of trial and thus no good results from it. Not many of God’s children come through trials triumphantly. Countless are those who collapse on the way! This is regrettable and it is a loss.
Of the six hundred thousand or so Israelites, only two living and two dead entered Canaan. Few lived on and crossed over. How very tragic it is that one should die just as the trial is nearly over! Now if this should be God’s appointed time for us to die early, we have nothing to say. But if we mistreat our body, the work of God will suffer. For the Church to be truly rich spiritually, it needs to have among its people those of seventy, eighty and ninety years of age. If the Lord takes exception by calling one or two of His workers to himself early, we have nothing to say. But for us to be useful in the work, we should take a little more care of our body. One of the problems in the work of God is that just about the time that a person is almost trained his days on earth come to an end. Before any work is done, the body is already damaged. As soon as one begins to be used, he is gone to be with the Lord. How very sorrowful this is!
Therefore, let us not think it right to neglect our body. We do indeed need to have the mind to suffer and to buffet our body into obedience. Nevertheless, whenever possible, we must take care of our body. To be careless is easy; to be careful is not so easy. We need to learn to eat healthy food and in other ways take care of our body. There may be times when we must give our all if the Lord should so order and the work so demands. In ordinary days, though, we should learn to take care of the body according to the best way that men know.
Let us ever be mindful of this, that if we should lose even but one workman, we will lose ten to twenty years of the Lord’s working in that person. There are not many tens or twenties of years in a lifetime. When one first commences to serve the Lord, he may have some gift, but he seldom has much use in ministry. To arrive at such usefulness in ministry, it will take him one or two decades. And this time estimate is only applicable to those who straitly walk in the way of the Lord. For people whose way is not straight, they may not arrive at usefulness even after this lengthy period. It is not a simple thing for God to spend twenty years to train a person. During those many years, he may need to be smitten and chiseled numerous times over by the Lord. It is not a light thing that a person who is to be useful must suffer, bear the cross, be smitten, and be under the disciplining hand of God—and not merely for one or two years, but for ten or twenty long years. If during this period he neglects his body, he will be gone before he reaches the time of greatest usefulness. How very sad and lamentable this is.
Once an elderly brother was asked: “To the best of your recollection, when would you say you have been the most useful throughout your life up to this point?” He thought for a while and replied: “The years between seventy and eighty.” Truly, spiritual usefulness increases with age. The longer you are in the way of service, the more useful you become. We have noticed, unfortunately, that along this way some have died, some have become marred, some are broken, some have been of little use, while still others have been of no use. Very few reach their usefulness after twenty or thirty years of training, but by that time they are on the verge of departing from the world. This is really very, very sad! Yes, the more days one learns before God, the more useful he becomes. But for such a person to pass away prematurely is truly a regrettable event.
Now concerning the body more specifically, attention should be paid to preventive care as well as routine care. We readily acknowledge that we must not be lacking in our having the mind to suffer, and many a time we do indeed have to press on under the most difficult situations. Yet under normal conditions we should learn to take care of the body. We cannot afford to be careless in this matter.
As to the area of rest, we should do so at the time of rest. We are under such strain that sometimes we do not know how to relax in bed. If we are still tense there, we lose the value of sleep. We should learn to rest while sitting. A worker should be able to be tense when tension is required, but be able to relax during a few minutes of leisure. Otherwise, he will be tense all the time, which is certainly not good. We must learn how to relax.
During your leisure time you should relax your muscles. In sleep loosen your hands and feet. We as servants of God can be tense in time of need—more tense in fact than the strongest, for our body listens to us. But no one can be tense all the time. Our muscles and nerves need to be loosened up and rested. Many times we must make a conscious effort to find opportunity to rest in order that we may recover our equilibrium. Otherwise, we will cross the line of overwork and go to an extreme. Let us not be extremists here.
As in everything else we should learn to trust God for our body, and at the same time learn to rest as nature demands. We must learn how to relax. Then it will be easy for us to rest and go to sleep. According to the experience of some people, the number of breathings can help us in our sleeping. During sleep our breathing is deep. We cannot control the former, but we may control the latter. We may count our breathings. Let us learn to breathe slowly and long just as we breathe while actually at sleep. Yet let us not think of sleep, but think of breathing. Let us first engage in the sleep-like breathing, and then after a while the sleep will come. Many go to sleep using this very method. We believe God has created this body with a capacity for sleeping. We not only believe in God himself, we also believe in His creative laws. We need sleep, and we are able to sleep.
So try to loosen up your entire body in order that you may get some rest. If you cannot rest, you cannot help but be tense. And being tense both day and night, it will be impossible for you to do much work. Some may have infirmities, but if you learn to take better care of your body, you can spare it from a great deal of trouble.
The same is true with eating. In this area of concern, a worker should be on the lookout for nutrition, not for taste. He should eat more of the more nutritious food and eat less, or not eat at all, of the less nutritious food. We should also be careful not to over-eat and to learn to eat everything. Some brothers and sisters only eat those items which happen to fall within a narrow range of food. Such a habit is not good for the body. We need to eat broadly. Many varieties of food give nourishment to our body. If we eat only a few kinds of things, we may not feel any deficiency now, but we will surely discover its effect later in life. The length of one’s life is influenced by the food he takes in.
Another benefit in eating broadly is the convenience it gives to the worker. Otherwise, when you go out to work, you will create many problems if you refuse to take the food that is offered you. Naturally, of course, sickness is the one exception to this rule. But for ordinary situations, you should learn to eat all kinds of food. As the Lord Jesus himself said: “Eat such things as are set before you” (Luke 10.8). And this is indeed a good principle to follow.
Once on a ship a believer asked a fellow-believer, “Why did the Lord Jesus multiply the loaves and the fishes?” The answer given was: “The abundance of the sea adds to the abundance of the land.” How well-phrased a statement this was. God’s children should learn to eat the abundance of the sea as well as the abundance of the land. The scope of our food should be as broad as possible.
Do not deem this area of concern to be insignificant. If you do not deal with this matter, your health is bound to suffer. You should cause your body to listen to you. Though at the beginning there will be distress, for you may not like some foods, you must deal with this issue and learn to eat everything. You need, on the one hand, to have a mind to suffer, but on the other hand, you should learn to take care of your own body. We have no sympathy for those who do not take care of their body. Do not think hygiene to be an easy subject to talk about. To be hygienic is a more difficult task than to not be hygienic, for it requires self-control. Learn to eat nutritious food. Do not let your eating be governed by taste but by your bodily need. How can you neglect your body in the face of the fact that the Lord has spent many years on you? Pay attention to preventive hygiene. As much as the Lord permits you in your circumstances, do your best to comply with the requirements of your health. Take in whatever is profitable, and reject that which is harmful.
On the one hand, learn to deny self and be faithful unto death; on the other hand, unless the Lord orders differently, always preserve your own body. Wherever you go, try your best to be sanitary, but do not create a burden upon the brethren of that locality. Learn to trust God in the midst of an unsanitary environment. But under normal conditions pay attention to hygiene so that your body will not be damaged unnecessarily.
There is yet another area of character-building which a worker for the Lord must consider. He must learn not to be obstinate in his lifestyle. A servant of God should never establish for himself an absolutely subjective standard of living; nor should he insist on having his own way. In order to serve God well, we must “become all things to all men” in accordance with the Biblical principle that is taught of not offending anyone. Paul wrote along this line as follows:
Though I was free from all men, I brought myself under bondage to all, that I might gain the more. And to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, not being myself under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; to them that are without law, as without law, not being without law to God, but under law to Christ, that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak I became weak, that I might gain the weak: I am become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some. (1 Cor. 9.19-22)
For the sake of the gospel, Paul became all things to all men. Whoever serves the Lord should have this character trait.
In another place, the apostle also wrote this: “I know how to be abased, and I know also how to abound: in everything and in all things have I learned the secret both to be filled and to be hungry, both to abound and to be in want” (Phil. 4.12). It is easy for men to be lopsided, that is to say, easy for them to go to extreme. For some, to be a Christian is to live in prosperity and abundance; for others, to live in abasement, hunger and want. Yet Paul said he had learned how to be abased and how to abound, how to be filled and how to be hungry. He had learned the secret in these things, which was: “I can do all things in him that strengtheneth me” (v.13). Thus was he able to accept any kind of life condition.
Unfortunately some brothers and sisters are rather obstinate in their daily life, so that their habits have become absolutely unbreakable and unchangeable. Some must always have warm water to wash the face; others must be able to shave every day. If they go to an environment where they cannot live according to their normal way of life, they find it unbearable. Although these matters may appear to be rather insignificant, they could verily hinder the work of the Lord. People in such a state cannot be God’s servants. A worker should not be so firmly set in his daily habits and routines; he should be able to wash with warm water or cold; he should be able to shave daily or go without shaving for one or two days; he should be able to change his shirt everyday or to wear the same shirt for days if need be; and he should be able to sleep on a hard bed or a soft bed. If a person is truly a servant of God he will be adaptable to all sorts of life conditions.
Temperament and age too should not become limitations to a workman of God. For example, in some places people are naturally warm and outgoing, whereas in some other places they may be temperamentally cool. A servant of God should be able to work among both these kinds of people. Suppose a worker’s own temperament is rather on the cool side; if he can work only among those with a similar temperament but not work among those of a warm and outgoing sort, then the work of God will certainly suffer. We find, unfortunately, that some can work among the enthusiastic but not among the more quiet type, that some can work with the serious but not with the lighthearted. Such willful inclinations as these will limit the work of God. Then, too, some may be able to communicate well with the older people but have no rapport with young people or children. Such a lopsided disposition can circumscribe God’s work. Let us not forget that our Lord received the elderly and blessed the little children. God wants us to be like Christ—receiving the older ones and blessing the young ones. It is not unlike what Madame Guyon once said when she remarked that a person wholly united with God can be the counsellor of the aged and the friend of little children. This adaptability is what we too need to adopt in our Christian lifestyle as servants of the Lord.
This all comes back, does it not, to the matter of dealing with our self life. Our self must be so broken that God can place us in any situation. We are to be neither obstinate, nor lopsided. Paul was able to be all things to all men because he had been dealt with by God. May we all receive such dealing so that our disposition and habit are no longer set in concrete or tilted in but one direction. In this way God’s work will not be hindered or limited by us.
One who does the Lord’s work should also have a right understanding of, and appropriate solutions for, such matters as virginity, marriage and so forth. These issues are usually left undiscussed, but we feel the need to give some Biblical instruction on them because they are rather important in the life of a workman for God.
Concerning virginity, Paul gave definite instruction in 1 Corinthians 7:
Now concerning virgins I have no commandment of the Lord: but I give my judgment, as one that hath obtained mercy of the Lord to be trustworthy. I think therefore that this is good by reason of the distress that is upon us, namely, that it is good for a man to be as he is. Art thou bound unto a wife? seek not to be loosed. Art thou loosed from a wife? seek not a wife. But shouldest thou marry, thou hast not sinned; and if a virgin marry, she hath not sinned. Yet such shall have tribulation in the flesh: and I would spare you. But this I say, brethren, the time is shortened, that henceforth both those that have wives may be as though they had none; and those that weep, as though they wept not; and those that rejoice, as though they rejoiced not; and those that buy, as though they possessed not; and those that use the world, as not using it to the full: for the fashion of this world passeth away. But I would have you to be free from cares. He that is unmarried is careful for the things of the Lard, how he may please the Lord: but he that is married is careful for the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and is divided. So also the woman that is unmarried and the virgin is careful for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit: but she that is married is careful for the things of the world, how she may please her husband. And this I say for your own profit; not that I may cast a snare upon you, but for that which is seemly, and that ye may attend upon the Lord without distraction. (vv.25-35)
Here we are shown that the benefit of virginity lies in enabling a person to serve the Lord more diligently and without distraction. In this respect, it does surpass those ones who are with family.
Nevertheless, such a word is not for everyone. Let us notice what then follows in Paul’s discussion on these issues:
But if any one think that he behaves unseemly to his virginity, if he be beyond the flower of his age, and so it must be, let him do what he will, he does not sin: let them marry. But he who stands firm in his heart, having no need, but has authority over his own will, and has judged this in his heart to keep his own virginity, he does well. So that he that marries himself does well; and he that does not marry does better. A wife is bound for whatever time her husband lives; but if the husband be fallen asleep, she is free to be married to whom she will, only in the Lord. But she is happier if she so remain, according to my judgment; but I think that I also have God’s Spirit. (vv.36-40 Darby)
What is said here is plain enough. If anyone thinks he is not acting properly towards his own virginity, that he is passing the bloom of his youth and there is need for marriage, then let him do what to him seems right. To continue being single or not is a question for him to decide. Nobody else can choose for him. It is to be decided not only according to what he chooses in his heart but also according to his having need or no need. He has full authority over his own will.
In the Gospel of Matthew we find this passage:
The disciples say unto him [Jesus], If the case of the man is so with his wife, it is not expedient to marry. But he said unto them, Not all men can receive this saying, but they to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs, that were so born from their mother’s womb: and there are eunuchs, that were made eunuchs by men: and there are eunuchs, that made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it (19.10-12)
Joining the last clause of verse 11 with the last sentence of verse 12, we have this: “but they to whom it is given ... He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.” It is quite clear that to whom this word is given, let him receive it.
For the sake of having adequate time to serve the Lord diligently without distraction, it is best to remain single. Among the disciples of our Lord, John was one who remained single. Paul, who came forth a short time later, was also single. Yet, should there be the need for marriage, let them be married: it is not a sin. The difference between marriage and virginity centers not on the matter of sin but on the consideration of time, diligence and distraction.
The body has been created by God, and all its needs have also been created by Him. Hence marriage is holy. But any bodily demand that is met outside of marriage is sinful in the eyes of the Lord. Why be married? To avoid any relationship outside of marriage. To be married is not only not a sin; it can serve as a prevention of sin. Marriage is not a moral fall; it prevents a fall.
Paul also spoke specifically on marriage in 1 Corinthians 7:
Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote: It is good for a man not to touch a woman. But because of fornications, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband. Let the husband render unto the wife her due: and likewise also the wife unto the husband. The wife hath not power over her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power over his own body, but the wife. Defraud ye not one the other, except it be by consent for a season, that ye may give yourselves unto prayer, and may be together again, that Satan tempt you not because of your incontinency. But this I say by way of concession, not of commandment. Yet I would that all men were even as I myself. Howbeit each man hath his own gift from God, one after this manner, and another after that.
But I say to the unmarried and to widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I. But if they have not continency, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn. . . . (vv.l-9)
This passage points out that one of the purposes of marriage is to prevent fornication. At the same time it also reveals that some people are given a special gift from God so that they have no need to marry. But for those who have not received such a gift, it is better for them to marry than to burn with passion. Let us not overdraw this matter of virginity. We know Paul was single, but he told Timothy that in the latter times there would be doctrines of demons and of seducing spirits to the effect that marriage would be forbidden (see 1 Tim. 4.1,3). Hence we need to maintain the balance of God’s word: we believe on the one hand that virginity and the single life is good, but on the other hand we also believe that marriage is holy too. Marriage has been instituted by God in His very creation from the beginning; and therefore, to forbid to marry is indisputably a doctrine of the demons.
He who does the Lord’s work and is already married should so set his family in order that it will be less distracting to his service. Another point to be made here is this: the line between the work and the family must be clear, unless members of one’s family are also one’s fellow-workers. Otherwise, they should not touch the work or be involved in it. Do not carry the work into the family, nor let your family govern your work. A brother once remarked that he had gone to work for the Lord in a certain place because his wife had made the promise for him! How strange! The fact of the matter is that not only his family, but even his fellow-workers, cannot promise for him. The demarcation between one’s family relationship and one’s work for God must be sharply delineated. For example, he who serves the Lord must not carelessly tell his family members the spiritual problems of the brothers and sisters in the churches. Members of the family should come to know about these things at the same time as with all other brothers and sisters. Numerous difficulties in the work are created by God’s workers talking loosely and indiscriminately to their families.
Still another point to be noticed concerns the proper relationship which must be kept as it pertains to the communication of brothers with sisters and vice versa. If a brother is inclined to work only among the sisters, he should not be allowed to work. Or if a young sister is predisposed to serve primarily among brothers, she should not be permitted to serve. Let us strictly observe the following principle: under normal conditions, brothers should work more among brothers, and sisters more among sisters. The Son of God in the days of His flesh left us with a good example. The line between John 3 and John 4 is very distinctive. In chapter 3 we note that our Lord received Nicodemus at night; in chapter 4 we read that He met the Samaritan woman in broad daylight. According to chapter 3 He most likely received Nicodemus in a house; according to chapter 4 He met the Samaritan woman by a public well. It would have been improper had the environments been reversed so far as the woman was concerned. Our Lord’s speaking to Nicodemus and His speaking with the Samaritan woman were under entirely different surroundings. This sets before us a good example to follow.
We are not saying here that there should not be any communication or fellowship between brothers and sisters who are in the work. We would only say that if some brothers and sisters have the disposition of moving about almost exclusively among the opposite sex, then such ones must be stopped. It goes without saying that in Christ there is neither male nor female. There has been no wall set up between brothers and sisters. They should have good fellowship. It is simply wise that for those who have such a nearly exclusive habit of communicating and interacting with the other sex there should be such timely dealing. We hope that brothers and sisters would naturally and spontaneously keep themselves within proper bounds in their interaction with one another. Should anyone overstep beyond the proper limits of fellowship, he or she must be strictly dealt with.
May God be gracious to us that we might bear a good testimony in all these matters. Amen.