The Church is often in grave danger, though it is almost entirely unaware of it. The danger is that we think that spiritual work and ministry can be carried out primarily by physical means. This is a grievous error, but oh so common. While everything we do has both physical and spiritual consequences, our modernism has connived a way for us to go about doing spiritual work using physical means, trusting that these physical means will bring about a spiritual result.
It goes like this . . . a math teacher can get up in front of class of 14 year olds, explain the quadratic equation, pass out the homework, grade the homework, likely re-explain it in the next class, and by the end of the term (granted that he is a dexterous teacher with a relatively engaged class) he will have passed along the knowledge and understanding of these deep algebraic mysteries; mysteries even angels long to look into.
Now, place a Christian in front of a group of unbelievers, have him explain the Gospel, and then . . . ask everyone in the room to believe upon the Lord Jesus that they might be saved. What will be the result? We could repeat this exercise over and over again, but the issue at hand is that in order for the physical work to bring about spiritual results, there must be spiritual work that precedes the physical work. Ultimately, imparting spiritual truths is a work that rests entirely upon the shoulders of the Spirit of God. After all, we frequently spout Zechariah 4:6, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit.” The question is: will this verse be merely a cliche or will it be the truth we live by?
Paul addressed this issue in his letter to the Galatians, for they too were in need of a two-by-four of truth square between the eyes; he said to them: “Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh (Galatians 3:3)?” In essence, they too were believing the lie that spiritual results could be attained by fleshly means. It is a most grievous error. If we desire a blessing upon our ministry, we must recognize that it is from God that “all blessings flow.” Far too much of our labor and ministry efforts lack power and efficacy simply because we vainly think that our stratagems, eloquence, flashy marketing techniques, celebrity Christians and arena-rock worship bands are sufficient in and of themselves to woo a world that is lost in sin . . . and loves it that way.
We will never be able to match the appeal which fleshly vice has to a soul that is dead in sin by appealing to the flesh with cheesier, less well-produced, and slightly more sanitary versions of the same fleshly vices. Unless and until the Spirit of God moves with might, and opens blind eyes to the surpassing glories of Christ, our use of physical efforts to win the lost, disciple the saints, and battle the errors of the day will be but vanity.
Do not mistake my meaning, we must use physical means; we must use physical minds, to process actual thoughts, and use physical tongues to proclaim audible truths. We must use physical feet, hands, and bodies to serve and meet actual physical needs in prisons, orphanages, parliaments, and hospitals. However, our hope must be anchored to the promise that “Except the LORD build the house, they labour in vain that build it (Psalms 127:1).” The spiritual work that we are called to be employed in, can only be done by the power of the Spirit; and though He will use earthly, physical, flesh and bone it will only be secondary to the work He does via the living and abiding Word, piercing through flesh and bone, soul and spirit.
Let us cast our work fully upon the shoulders of He Who alone has begun the work of Redemption, can carry on the work and can complete the work. Many want to get spiritual results without going about the spiritual work which God has called us to do, viz. self-renunciation, self-denial, and faith and dependance upon the Spirit of Christ. Edwards once said, “All that men can do, and all that they can suffer, can never make up for the want of sincere Christian love in the heart. Whatever men may do or suffer, they cannot, by all their performances and sufferings, make up for the want of sincere love in the heart.”
I fear that at the real root of our powerlessness is a lack of sincere Christian love to God. If we truly loved Him, would we so dishonor Him by attempting to do the work of His Kingdom and yet refuse to avail ourselves of the Spirit which He has given us, or the mighty weaponry of prayer and the Word with which He has equipped us?! We do Him most honor by obeying Him, and how He has commanded us to carry out our part of this spiritual work. He has commanded, “Apart from me, you can do nothing.” May we not be so arrogant as to think that our work, our wisdom, or our effort is sufficient to bring about spiritual effect. Spurgeon hits the mark: “The minister who does not earnestly pray over his work must surely be a vain and conceited man. He acts as if he thought himself sufficient of himself, and therefore needed not to appeal to God. Yet what a baseless pride to conceive that our preaching can ever be in itself so powerful that it can turn men from their sins, and bring them to God without the working of the Holy Ghost. If we are truly humble-minded we shall not venture down to the fight until the Lord of Hosts has clothed us with all power, and said to us, ‘Go in this thy might.’”