KEEPING ONENESS IN LOVE
Chapter One of a Timely Word by Witness Lee
Scripture Reading: Eph. 4:2-3; Rom. 14:1-3, 5-6; Phil. 2:2-3; 1 Cor. 11:27-29
This book of three chapters covers some vital matters related to the Lord’s present recovery. In this first chapter we want to see the crucial matter of keeping oneness in love. In chapter 2 we want to study the Word concerning God’s administration on this earth. Finally, in chapter 3 we will fellowship about our going on.
KEEPING THE ONENESS OF THE SPIRIT
The church life is a life in oneness in love. We are one in the Lord. Once a person believes in the Lord Jesus and gets regenerated and saved, he immediately begins to have a good feeling within him toward other Christians. He begins to love other Christians. When we were new in the Lord’s salvation, we had a loving thought, a loving feeling, and a loving intention within us to love the other Christians. However, because of our human nature, troubles arise after we are in contact with one another for a longer period of time. If a married couple had never fallen in love, there would have been no possibility of divorce. How could love produce divorce? Love brings us together, and this togetherness is always the real source of trouble. If a husband and wife are away from one another for a period of time, they will miss each other. When they reunite, a problem may arise between them after a short time. Our contact with one another can create problems because of our fallen human nature.
Ephesians 4:2-3 says, “With all lowliness and meekness, with long-suffering, bearing one another in love, being diligent to keep the oneness of the Spirit in the uniting bond of peace.” The word all governs both lowliness and meekness. We need all lowliness and meekness. We need long-suffering, and we need to bear one another in love. We have to pray ourselves into the reality of these verses. We need to pray so that our prayer can bring us into lowliness and meekness. To have this oneness among us is not a small matter. It is very, very crucial. This oneness in the church life governs our daily life, our family life, and our church life.
This oneness cannot be prevailing unless it is in the Spirit. This is why it is called “the oneness of the Spirit.” If we have a kind of oneness that is not in the Spirit, that oneness is not genuine and will not last long. The oneness of the Spirit is constituted with virtues such as lowliness, meekness, long-suffering, bearing one another in love, and diligence. We have to be diligent to keep the oneness in the uniting bond of peace. These are not natural virtues, but they are the divine attributes expressed in our humanity to be our human virtues. We should live a life full of the divine attributes expressed in our humanity to be our human virtues. In these virtues there is the keeping of the oneness of the Spirit.
In Philippians 2:2-3 Paul says, “Make my joy full, that you think the same thing, having the same love, joined in soul, thinking the one thing, doing nothing by way of selfish ambition nor by way of vainglory, but in lowliness of mind considering one another more excellent than yourselves.” The apostle Paul’s joy could be made full when the saints were thinking the same thing. Our unrenewed mind is like an unbridled, wild horse. It runs in many directions and is out of control. In addition to thinking the same thing, we need to have the same love for all the saints. If I love one brother more than another brother, this will create problems. If we live by our natural life, it is impossible for us to have all of the items in Philippians 2:2-3. These items can be realized only through the divine life expressed in our human life. In the divine life are the divine attributes. When these divine attributes are expressed in our human life, they become our human virtues. It is in these virtues that we have the oneness of the Spirit.
This oneness of the Spirit is altogether the basic element of our church life. If we are short of this, we “commit suicide” in the church life. Some of us may have experienced this kind of spiritual suicide already. Because the oneness is so crucial to our spiritual life, we have to go further to see what we have to be aware of in order to keep the oneness of the Spirit.
PRACTICING ROMANS 14 TO HAVE THE REALITY OF THE BODY LIFE IN ROMANS 12
At the beginning of my ministry in the United States in 1962, I spoke frequently on Romans 12. Romans 12 is a chapter on how to have the Body life. First, you have to present your body to the Lord (v. 1), then your mind will be renewed (v. 2), and your spirit will be burning (v. 11). With our body presented, our mind renewed, and our spirit burning, we can know the will of God (v. 2), which is to live the Body life. If we only practice the truth in Romans 12, however, we cannot have the Body life. The Body life actually depends upon Romans 14. If we are going to have the proper Body life, the church life, we must learn how to embrace all the differences between Christians.
The differences between Christians are innumerable. In the local churches, there are saints from many different countries and cultures, and this issues in many differences. Even within one country and one culture, there are many differences. When I came to the United States, I traveled to many places to minister the word. I stayed in many American homes, and I was surprised at the different kinds of Americans. I discovered that the United States was a real melting pot of many different peoples, cultures, and races. I found out that different parts of the country had different foods and different accents. When I was invited to Tyler, Texas, I heard the word y’all for the first time, and I eventually realized that it was an abbreviated pronunciation of you all. It is a wonderful thing that the church life swallows up all the differences. In all the church meetings in Texas, it is hard to hear the word y’all. Many of the brothers have learned to speak in a standard way of speaking English. Differences in the human race make it difficult to practice the church life in oneness. The Chinese saints who came to Taiwan from mainland China came from many different provinces. Although ninety-five percent of the saints were Chinese, they spoke Mandarin, a common Chinese dialect, with many different accents. Among the provinces in mainland China there were many differences. After almost forty years of practicing the church life in Taiwan, however, the differences have been nearly swallowed up.
On the one hand, the church life swallows up all the differences. On the other hand, it always creates problems. A new local church may not have any problems. But the older a church becomes, the more problems it may have. This is why we need the oneness. No other society in mankind requires the oneness as much as the church life does. In the church life we all have to receive mercy and grace to embrace all kinds of differences.
In Romans 14 Paul illustrates how we need to receive all believers regardless of our differences. Some of the saints at Paul’s time were vegetarians, and others liked to eat meat (v. 2). Some of the saints in the church life wanted to keep certain days as holy days, and others did not (v. 5). Some probably liked to keep the Sabbath, and others felt that every day was the same. These different ways of living and worship came mostly from the Jewish people according to the Old Testament. Biblically speaking, it is all right to eat everything, and the practice of keeping the Sabbath was over, but Paul did not teach this in Romans 14. Paul did not justify anyone, and he did not condemn anyone. Instead, he tells us the way to keep the oneness.
Paul says, “One judges one day above another; another judges every day alike. Let each be fully persuaded in his own mind. He who regards that day, regards it to the Lord; and he who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who does not eat, does not eat to the Lord, and he gives thanks to God” (vv. 5-6). Paul’s idea is that as long as the saints do something to the Lord, it should be all right with us. I do not think that Paul was too liberal. Actually, he was very generous, and he was not narrow. If we had been Paul, we might have given the saints in Rome three messages on the observing of days: one concerning the Sabbath day, one concerning the first day of the week, and one concerning the Lord’s Day. These are important terms in the Bible. Perhaps we would have given the saints three messages to tell them what day is the right day. We might have said, “Don’t keep the Sabbath day. That was of the Old Testament.” But Paul did not do this, and he knew the Bible much better than any of us. He did not give the saints biblical teachings on these differences. He just indicated that those who keep a certain day keep it to the Lord; and those who do not keep a certain day do this to the Lord. They both did something to the Lord in a different way. Would we say that this is all right? This would be hard for many of us. We would like to say, “This is not scriptural.”
Suppose that a Seventh-day Adventist came to take the Lord’s table, and he sat next to you. Would you be at peace sitting next to a “Sabbath keeper”? Would you have the same feeling if another brother was sitting next to you? Probably all of us would feel uneasy. But our feeling and attitude are against Paul’s teaching in Romans 14. In Romans 14 Paul tells us we have to receive the saints. Even if their faith is weak, we have to receive them because God has received them (vv. 1-3). Our receiving of the saints must be based upon God’s receiving. Whomever God receives, we have to receive. Also, we have to receive them in a willing way, and we have to love them with the same love with which we love others. We should not have different levels of love.
Let us suppose that we are meeting with ten saints and that two of them are Seventh-day Adventists, three of them are Pentecostal, and the others are somewhat general. We may feel good about the ones who are general but uneasy about the others. This shows that something sectarian exists within us. We should have mercy and receive grace and learn the lesson to embrace all the differences among the saints. Otherwise, sooner or later, we will have troubles, and we will miss the very unique and genuine oneness.
There may be talks among us that some are for this and others are for that. This is just like the Corinthians, who were saying, “I am of Paul, and I of Apollos, and I of Cephas, and I of Christ” (1 Cor. 1:12). Even the one who said that he was of Christ was divisive. He said this in the way of excluding other believers. In order to keep the proper oneness, we have to bury all these kinds of slogans. Some among us may have said, “He is for the new way,” or “He is for the old way.” These slogans the new way and the old way should be buried. We should not pick up these slogans. Let us bury and drop all these vain slogans. We have to embrace the differences, but we must try our best to avoid the differences.
All of us have certain peculiarities that make us different. But once we believe in Jesus and come into the church life, we come in as peculiar members. We may think that we are general and not peculiar, but actually, we all have our own peculiarity. We must be delivered from our peculiar traits for the sake of the church life. If we do not know our peculiarity, that may be excusable. But as long as we are aware of it, we should receive grace to deal with our peculiarity. This saves us from trouble in the church life and helps the building up of the proper oneness in the church life.
Romans 14 is a very crucial chapter for the church life. We must remember that Romans 12 and Romans 14 go together. When we experience the truth in these two chapters, we can have the church life in the proper way. If we had only Romans 12 without Romans 14, the church life would be annulled. If we had only Romans 14 without Romans 12, the church life would be a formal church without reality. The reality is in Romans 12, but the practice is in Romans 14. We must practice Romans 14, and then we can have the reality in Romans 12. According to this point, Romans 14 is very, very crucial.
When I was a young believer and I met other Christians, I would ask them whether they had been sprinkled or immersed in their baptism. If they answered that they had been sprinkled, it was difficult for me to embrace them. If a Christian had been immersed, I was happy to embrace him because he and I were the same. We may be the same as other believers in a matter such as baptism, but if we stay together with them for a long period of time, other differences will arise. We have to be aware of things like this so that we can avoid division in any form. I have been learning this lesson of keeping oneness in love for many years, and I am still learning.
During the ten-day training that we have in the United States, many of the saints open up their homes to receive other saints who are attending the training. Many of the hosts and guests must admit that ten days together is the limit of their endurance. During the first four days of the training, everything may be wonderful. But by the ninth day of the training, the “wonderful” might be gone. The longer we stay together, the more the problems rise up.
When we first began the church life in our locality, everything was wonderful, and it seemed easy to keep the oneness. But after remaining in this locality for a number of years, things can rise up within and among us to damage the oneness. What shall we do? We should not try to move out of our locality. Instead, we must move our peculiarity out. If our peculiarity is not moved out of us, our problems will be repeated when we move to another locality. If we insist on keeping our peculiarity, we might be able to function in the church life for eight years. But if we want to be a member in the church life for fifty years, we need to remove many things out of our being. Then we can enter into the experience of both Romans 12 and Romans 14.
CONCERNING THE LORD’S TABLE - Proving Ourselves to Partake of the Table
To partake of the Lord’s table is a serious matter. First Corinthians 11:27-29 says, “So then whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and of the blood of the Lord. But let a man prove himself, and in this way let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not discern the body.” It is possible for us to eat the bread and drink the cup in an unworthy manner. When we come to the Lord’s table, we must be a person in a “worthy manner.” Our living and our behaving must be worthy of the Lord’s table, or we will be guilty of the body and of the blood of the Lord.
Paul goes on to say that each man should “prove himself.” Every time you come to the Lord’s table, you have to prove yourself. This means you have to examine yourself, put yourself to the test, and have yourself approved, meeting the prescribed specifications. You need to be approved by the “checking Spirit.” Then you can go to the Lord’s table and partake of the table with peace. If you sense that you are not approved, it is a problem for you to partake of the Lord’s table. Then what shall you do?
The Bible tells us that it is simple for us to deal with this matter if we are willing. If we sense that we are not approved, we can make a thorough confession of our sins, wrongdoings, shortcomings, and failures. Then the blood of the Lord Jesus will cleanse us immediately (1 John 1:9), and we can approve ourselves. All of us should practice this, especially when we come to the Lord’s table. To partake of the Lord’s table is a very serious matter.
If we eat the bread and drink the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, we eat and drink judgment to ourselves. When we partake of the Lord’s table, we must discern the body. We have to consider what is being exhibited on the table. The bread on the table signifies not only the physical body of the Lord but also His mystical Body, the very unique Body of Christ as the expression of the Triune God. To partake of this bread is serious. We must discern the bread that we are going to break. It must be a figure of Christ’s body broken on the cross for us, and it must be a figure of Christ’s mystical Body, which is the very church as the expression of the Triune God. The mass of the Catholic Church and the so-called holy communion of the Protestant denominations do not point to the unique Body of Christ but to their division, their denomination. In discerning the Body of Christ, we should not partake of the bread in any division or with any divisive spirit.
Ministering Christ as the Sin-dealing Life
We may feel that we have been approved to partake of the table, but we are concerned about others who have been committing sins. We may know of some saints who have been committing sins and still come to the Lord’s table. What shall we do? We must remember that Paul’s word in 1 Corinthians 11 tells us to prove ourselves, to test ourselves for approval. It does not tell us that we have to prove or test others. We should leave others to the Lord and not be their judge. We should only judge ourselves and not judge others.
If you know that someone has committed some sins, you have to pray for him and learn to minister Christ as the sin-dealing life to him that he may deal with his sins. The life of Christ is a life that deals with sin, a sin-dealing life. First, you yourself must be dealt with by enjoying Christ’s sin-dealing life. Then you must minister such a Christ as the sin-dealing life to others. The book of Leviticus tells us that the priests were to eat the sin offering in the holy place that they might “bear the iniquity of the assembly, to make expiation for them before Jehovah” (10:17). As you are enjoying Christ as the sin-dealing life, you must have the capacity to bear the iniquity of God’s people. You must learn to minister Christ to the dear ones who are in sin.
To minister Christ as the sin-dealing life to someone is not to go to him to point out his fault and condemn him. This will only cause damage. You have to go first to soften his hardened heart. A person who sins usually has his heart hardened (Heb. 3:13). If you are going to minister Christ to him, you have to trust in the Lord that you may have the grace of the Spirit to soften his hardened heart. You have to soften his heart and warm up his heart. Then the very Christ as life will be actually, really, and richly ministered to him, and this life, which is the Spirit, will work within him. You do not need to mention his fault, because the life that gets into him as the life supply will do a lot. If a person has a certain physical sickness, you do not need to mention his disease. If you minister the proper medication to this sick man, he will get well. I have experienced this in caring for the saints. I did not talk with the saint about his weakness, fault, or sin, but he was healed. He did not get healed by my word but by the very Spirit, the life of Christ ministered into him through me. This is what it means, according to Leviticus, to bear the iniquity of the people of God. This is the way to get rid of the sins among some saints.
The work to recover the sinful saints takes time. It cannot be quick. You have to be patient. Even if it took eight months or a year to get one or two sinful saints recovered, that would be a great thing. Galatians 6:1 says that when a brother is overtaken in some offense, those who are spiritual should restore him. We have to do our best to recover a fallen saint. Out of one hundred saints meeting together, maybe two or three are living in a sinful situation. Since you are enjoying Christ, you can pick up the burden to take care of one of them. Another brother may have a burden for the same person. Then you and he can fellowship about this one saint and work together to help him. If you two can work together for half a year to get this sinful brother recovered, this is a great, great help to the church life. This kind of ministry is the element for us to maintain the oneness of the Spirit in the church life.
The oneness can be maintained only in love by the Spirit. Criticism only builds up division and destroys the oneness. We all have to avoid negative talk and learn to take Christ as the sin offering, the sin-dealing life, that we may have the measure and the capacity with a certain amount of Christ to minister to the sinful saints. Then these saints, sooner or later, will be recovered. If we recover one brother, we will reduce the problems in the church life related to the oneness. If you get yourself approved before the Lord, try to help another one who has a problem. After six months of your ministering Christ as the sin-dealing life to him, his problem may be gone. This is not only to bear the iniquity of the people of God but also to solve the problems of the people of God. Furthermore, this is a practical way to maintain the oneness of the Spirit among the saints.
Thus, related to the Lord’s table, we should practice two things. First, we have to prove ourselves. Second, we should not talk about a sinful saint but pray for him and try to minister the very Christ whom we enjoy to him. Sooner or later, this ministry will be real salvation to him. Then the church’s problem will be solved through us, and we will have no problem in the oneness of the Spirit. In this way, we also can have peace within us to take the Lord’s table.
Let us all be diligent to keep the oneness and endeavor to live a life of love in the church life. Love builds up, but knowledge kills (1 Cor. 8:1; 2 Cor. 3:6). Always live a life in love. Whether or not you go to help a certain one is secondary. The primary thing is to love all the saints, whether they are good or bad, with the same love. We have a tendency to love the stronger saints but not the weaker ones. We must love all the saints with the same love. As long as someone is a saint, he is a member in the church, and we should love him with the same love that we love the other saints. This will kill the germs, destroy the problems, and build up a permanent, lasting oneness of the Spirit.
What isn't Oneness
How We Keep the Oneness!
We enjoy God, live Christ and DENY ourselves!