There was a class of Levites who busily served in the Temple, and yet they were not serving Him; they were merely serving the House. However, service to the Lord and service to the House appear so much alike that is often difficult to differentiate between the two. If an Israelite came along to the Temple and wanted to worship God, those Levites would come to his aid and help him offer his peace offering and his burnt offering. They would help him drag the sacrifice to the altar, and they would slay it. Surely that was a grand work to be engaged in, reclaiming sinners and leading believers closer to the Lord! And God took account of the service of those Levites who helped men bring their peace offerings and their burnt offerings to the altar. Yet He said it was not ministry to Himself.
Brothers and sisters, there is a heavy burden on my heart that you might realize what God is after. He wants ministers who will minister to Him.
“But the priests, the Levites, the sons of Zadok, that kept the charge of my sanctuary when the children of Israel went astray form me, they shall come near to me to minister unto me; and they shall stand before me to offer unto me the fat and the blood, saith the LORD God” (Ezekiel 44:15).
Much so-called service for Him is simply following our natural inclinations. We have such active dispositions that we cannot bear to stay at home, so we run around for our own relief. We may appear to be serving believers, but all the while we are serving our own flesh.
The conditions basic to all ministry that can truly be called ministry to the Lord are drawing near to Him and standing before Him. It is only as we draw near to Him that we can minister to Him. Unless we really know what it is to draw near to God, we cannot know what it is to serve Him. It is impossible to stand afar off and still minister to Him. We cannot serve Him from a distance. There is only one place where ministry to Him is possible and that is in the Holy place. In the outer court you approach the people; in the Holy Place you approach the Lord.
But a spiritual person knows how to stand still. He can stand before God till God makes His will known. He can stand and await orders. You who are leaders need to particularly consider this. Can you be persuaded to call a halt and not move for a little while? That is what is referred to here: “stand and minister unto me.” Don’t you think that a servant should await his master’s orders before seeking to serve him?
There are only two types of sin before God. One is the sin of refusing to obey when He issues orders. The other is the sin of going ahead when the Lord has not issued orders. The one is rebellion; the other is presumption. The one is not doing what the Lord has required; the other is doing what the Lord has not required. Learning to stand before the Lord deals with the sin of doing what the Lord has not commanded.
Let me tell you that nothing so damages the Lord’s interests as a “good thing.” “Good things” are the greatest hindrance to the accomplishment of His will. That thing you contemplate doing may be very good, but are you standing before the Lord awaiting His command regarding it? “They shall stand before me” involves halting in His presence and refusing to move till He issues His order. That is what ministry to the Lord means.
But something is required of us as we stand before the Lord and minister to Him. We are required to offer Him, “the fat and the blood.” The blood answers the demands of His Holiness and righteousness; the fat meets the requirements of his glory. The blood deals with the question of our sin; the fat deals with the question of His satisfaction. The blood removes all that belongs to the old creation; the fat brings in the new.
Ministry to the Lord is confined to a certain place:
“They shall enter into my sanctuary, and they shall come near to my table to minister unto me, and they shall keep my charge” (Ezekiel 44:16).
Ministry that is “unto me” is in the inner sanctuary, in the hidden place, not in the outer court, exposed to public view. People may think we are doing nothing, but service to God in the Holy Place far transcends service to the people in the outer court.
The same passage tells us how they must be clothed who would minister to the Lord:
They shall be clothed with lined garments; and no wool shall come upon them, while they minister in the gates of the inner court, and within. They shall have linen bonnets upon their heads, and shall have linen breeches upon their loins (Ezekiel 44:18).
Those who minister to the Lord may not wear wool. Why not? The reason is given:
“They shall not clothe themselves with anything that causes sweat”
(verse 18 NKJV).
When the blessing of God is withheld, fleshly effort becomes necessary, and that causes sweat. All work that produces sweat is positively prohibited to those who minister to the Lord. Yet today what an expenditure of energy there is in work for Him! Few Christians can do any work today without sweating over it. Their work involves planning and scheming, exhorting and urging, and very much running around. It cannot be done without a great deal of fleshly zeal.
Nowadays, if there is no sweat, there is no work. Before work for God can be undertaken, there is a great deal of rushing to and fro, making numerous contacts, having consultations and discussions, and finally getting the approval of various people before going ahead. As for waiting quietly in the presence of God and seeking His instructions, that is out of the question.
Yet in spiritual work, the one factor to be taken into account is God . He is the one person to make contact with. That is the preciousness of spiritual work that is truly spiritual – it is related to the Lord Himself. In relation to Him there is work to do, but it is work that produces no sweat.
If we have to advertise our ministry and use great effort to promote it, then it is obvious that it does not spring from prayer in the presence of God. If you really work in God’s presence, men will respond when you come into their presence. You will not have to use endless means in order to help them. Spiritual work is God’s work, and when God works, man does not need to expend so much effort that he sweats over it.
Let us in utter honesty examine ourselves before God today. Let us ask Him: “Am I serving You, or am I merely serving the work? Is my ministry truly unto you Lord, or is it only ministry to your House?” If you are pouring with sweat all the time, it is safe to conclude that it is the House you are serving, not the Lord. If all your busyness is related to human need, you may know that you are serving men, not God. I am not despising the work of slaying sacrifices at the altar. It is work for God and someone has to do it – but God wants something beyond that.
God cannot secure everyone for service to Himself, for many of His own are reluctant to leave the thrill and excitement of the outer court. They are bent on serving the people. But what about us? Oh that today we might say to the Lord: “I am willing to forsake things, I am willing to forsake the outer court and serve You in the inner sanctuary.”
When God could find no way to bring all the Levites to the place of ministry to Himself, He chose the sons of Zadok from among them for this special service. Why did He select the sons of Zadok from among them for this special service? Why did He select the sons of Zadok? Because when the children of Israel went astray, they recognized that the outer court had been irreparably corrupted, so they did not seek to preserve it. Instead, they made it their business to preserve the sanctity of the Holy Place.
Brothers and sisters, can you bear to let the external structure go, or must you persist in putting up a scaffolding to preserve it? It is the Holy Place that God is out to preserve – a place utterly set apart for Him. I beseech you before God to hear His call to forsake the outer court and devote yourself to His service in the Holy place.
“As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Ghost said: Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them” (Acts13:2).
We see there that the Holy Spirit commissions men to the work as they are ministering to the Lord. The work of God is God’s own work, and not work that you can take up at your pleasure. Men cannot send men to work for God. The authority to commission men is not in the hands of men, but solely in the hands of the Spirit of God.
Serving the Lord does not mean that we do not serve people, but it does mean that all service to people has service to the Lord as its basis. It is service Godward that urges us out manward.
- Abridged article from Watchman Nee
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