To know man is vital to a worker. When someone comes to us, we must discern his spiritual condition, his nature, and the extent of his spiritual progress. We must determine whether he has said what is really in his heart and how much he has left unsaid. Further, we should perceive his characteristics—whether he is hard or humble, whether his humility is true or false. Our effectiveness in service is closely related to our discernment of man's spiritual condition. If God's Spirit enables us through our spirit to know the condition of the person before us, we can then impart the appropriate word.
In the Gospels we find that whenever men came to our Lord, He always had the right word. This is a marvelous thing. The Lord did not talk to the Samaritan woman about new birth, nor did he tell Nicodemus of living water. The truth of the new birth was for Nicodemus, while the truth of the living water was for the Samaritan woman. How appropriate they were. Those who had not followed Him were invited to come; but those who desired to follow Him were invited to bear the cross. To one who volunteered, He spoke of counting the cost; while to one who lingered, He said, "Let the dead bury their dead." Our Lord's words were most appropriate, FOR HE KNEW ALL MEN. Our Lord knew whether they came as earnest seekers or merely to spy on Him ; and what He said to them was always right to the point. May God be merciful to us that we also may learn of Him how to know man so that we may be effective in dealing with people.
Without such imparted knowledge, a brother can only handle souls by his own understanding. If he has a special feeling on a certain day, he will speak to everybody according to that feeling, no matter who it is that comes. If he has a favorite subject, he speaks on it to all who come to him. How can such work be effective? No physician can use the same prescription for all his patients. Alas, some who serve God have only one prescription. Though they cannot first diagnose people's sicknesses, they are trying to cure them. In spite of their ignorance of man's complexities and their lack of insight into man's spiritual condition, nonetheless they seem to be quite ready to treat every ailment. How foolish to have only one spiritual prescription, yet try to meet every kind of spiritual disease!
Have you imagined that it is the dull who cannot discern, and only the clever who can? No, in this work the clever and the dull are equally excluded. You cannot use your (independent) mind or feeling to discern people. No matter how keen your mind, you cannot penetrate the depth of man and reveal his condition.
After meeting a soul, each worker must first discern what that individual's real need is before God. Often you cannot depend on what he says. Though he may correctly insist that he has a "headache," this may be only a symptom of a deeper condition whose roots are to be found elsewhere. Just because he feels warm does not necessarily mean he has a "high fever." He is likely to tell you many things which have no bearing on his case. A "sick person" seldom understands his real trouble; so he needs you to diagnose for him and offer the means of cure. You may want him to tell you his need, but he is prone to be mistaken. Only a trained diagnostician who is skilled in recognizing spiritual ailments, can discern the "patient's" real need. In every diagnosis you must have certainty. One who is merely subjective is sure to afflict people with imaginative illnesses, stubbornly insisting that this or that is what ails them.
Sometimes we may discover that the particular trouble is beyond our ability to help. Do not be so foolish as to assume you can cope with every situation and help all. For those whom you can help, you should spend and be spent. When you cannot be of help, you should tell the Lord, "This is beyond my ability; I cannot discern this disease. I haven't learned this yet. O Lord, be merciful." We should never think we can handle all the spiritual work or try to monopolize it. Here is our chance to see the supply of the different members of the Body. If you feel a certain brother or sister can handle the trouble, seek him out and say, "This is beyond my measure ; perhaps this is in your jurisdiction." In this way of working together in the Body, we learn to act relatedly, not independently.
We must emphasize it again : every worker must learn before the Lord how to KNOW man. How many lives are spoiled after passing through the hands of eager brothers who have not learned, but vainly give subjective views to meet objective needs! People should not be afflicted with ailments that we imagine they have. Our responsibility is to discern their true spiritual condition. If we have not first been a partaker of spiritual understanding how can we hope to help the rest of God's children?
In diagnosing a case, a medical doctor has recourse to many medical instruments. This is not so with us. We have no thermometer nor X-ray, nor any other such device to help us discern man's spiritual condition. How, then, do we discern whether a brother is spiritually ill or determine the nature of his trouble? It is wonderful that God has designed us to be as "thermometers" for measuring. By His working in our lives, He would equip us to discern what "ails" a person. As the Lord's spiritual "doctors" we must have a thorough inward preparation. We must be deeply conscious of the weight of our responsibility.
Suppose the thermometer had never been invented. The doctor would have to determine whether his patient had a fever by the mere touch of his hand. His hand would serve as the thermometer. How sensitive and accurate his hand would need to be! In spiritual work, this is exactly the case.
We are the thermometers, the instrumentalities. We must undergo thorough training and strict discipline, for whatever is untouched in us will be left untouched in others. Moreover we cannot help others to learn lessons which we have not learned before God. The more thorough our training, the greater will be our usefulness in God's work. Correspondingly, the more we spare ourselves—our pride, our narrowness, our happiness—the less our usefulness. If we have covered these things in ourselves, we cannot uncover them in others. A proud person cannot deal with another who is proud, nor can one who is narrow help another with the same condition ; a hypocrite cannot touch the hypocrisy in another, nor can one who is loose in his life have a helpful effect on one who suffers the same difficulty. How well we know, if such is still in our nature, we do not condemn this particular sin; we can hardly recognize it in others. A doctor may cure others without curing himself, but this can hardly be true in the spiritual realm. The worker is himself first a patient; he must be healed before he can heal others. What he has not seen he cannot show others. Where he has not trodden he cannot lead others. What he has not learned he cannot teach others.
We must see that we are the instrumentalities prepared by God for knowing man. Hence we must be dependable, qualified to give an accurate diagnosis. That my feelings may be reliable, I need to pray, "O Lord, do not let me go untouched, unbroken and unprepared." I must allow God to work in me what I have never dreamed of, so that I may become a prepared vessel whom He can use. A doctor would not use a defective thermometer. How much more serious it is for us to touch spiritual conditions than to touch physical illnesses while we still have our own thoughts, our own emotions and opinions, our own ways. If we still want to do this, and then suddenly want to do that, we are yet unstable. How can we be used when we are so undependable? We must pass through God's dealings or our efforts are vain. Then again, we must face this question.
Are we really conscious of the greatness of our responsibility? God's Spirit does not work directly in people; He does His work through man. People's needs are met on the one hand by the discipline of the Holy Spirit in ordering their environment, and on the other by the ministry of the Word. Without the supply of the ministry of the Word, the spiritual problem of the saints cannot be solved. What responsibility has fallen upon His workers! It is most serious. Whether or not one is usable determines the supply of the Church.
Suppose it is characteristic of a certain illness to reach a temperature of, say, 103°F. But unless you know the exact temperature, your diagnosis cannot be certain. You cannot determine by touching the patient with your hand that he has a fever of about 103°. Even so in the spiritual, it would be too risky for us to try to help others while our feelings and opinions are all wrong and our spiritual understanding is inadequate. Only if we are accurate and trustworthy can the Spirit of God be released through us.
The starting point of a spiritual work is marked by many readjustments made before God. A thermometer is made according to a definite standard and is carefully examined to meet rigid specifications. If then, we are the thermometer, how strict must be the discipline to bring us up to God's standard of accuracy! In God's work we are "doctors" as well as "medical instruments." How important it is that we pass His test.
In knowing a patient's condition, we should consider both the patient's side and our side. If you want to know what ails a person, you need first to recognize his most prominent feature. It will stand out so conspicuously that, try as he may, he cannot hide it. A proud person will reveal pride. With a sad person, a note of sadness pervades even his laughter. Invariably, the nature of the person will cause a certain definite impression to be felt.
There are many references in the Bible describing different types of spirit. Some people are hasty of spirit; others are hardened in their spirit; still others have a sorrowful spirit. We can say one has a haughty spirit, another has a depressed spirit, and so forth. Whence come these different conditions of the spirit? For instance, in a hard spirit, where does the hardness come from? In a proud spirit, what is the source of the pride ? Or in a haughty spirit, whence comes the haughtiness? Surely our human spirit in its normal state is not tinged with anything. It is designed just to manifest the Spirit of God. How can it be, then, that the spirit is spoken of as hard, or proud, or haughty, or unforgiving, or jealous? The answer is this : the outward and inward man are not divided, and thus the condition of the outward man becomes that of the inward. The spirit is hard because it is clothed in the hardness of the outward man, or proud because it is clothed with the pride of the outward man, or jealous because of the jealously of the outward man. Originally the spirit is colorless, but it can be tainted by the outward man if the latter is not broken.
Our spirit emanates from God. Thus originally it is pure, before it is affected by the impure state of the outward man. But it becomes proud or hard wholly because of the unbrokenness of the outward man. How the condition of the outward man will taint the spirit so as to come forth with the spirit! Thus to purify the spirit, one must deal not with the spirit, but with the outward man. We must realize the trouble lies not with the spirit but with the outward man. From the "color" of the spirit flowing forth we can detect immediately wherein a man has not been broken. The particular condition of the outward man stands revealed in the type of spirit you contact.
Once we have learned to touch man's spirit, we know exactly what is his need. This secret of knowing man is by touching his spirit—in sensing what it is clothed with. Let us repeat emphatically that this is the basic principle for knowing another man: by sensing, by tasting or drinking of his spirit. As the spirit flows forth it reveals the nature of the outward man, for our spirit takes its color from the outward man as it flows forth.
When one is strong in a particular point, it is like a thing which stands out before you. Just to reach out is to touch it. If you feel, you will know what it is. You will realize that thing is his unbroken outward man. If you can thus sense his spirit, you will know his condition. You will know what is revealed by him. or what he is trying to conceal. So we say again, if you want to know man, you must know him according to his spirit.
Let us now consider our part in knowing man. The disciplinary measures the Holy Spirit takes with us are God-given lessons by which, in one thing after another, we are broken. It takes many breakings in many areas of our lives for us to attain to a place of usefulness. When we say we can touch another through the spirit, it doesn't mean that we can similarly touch all individuals nor that we can discern another's spiritual condition in totality. It is simply that in the particular thing where we have been disciplined by the Holy Spirit and broken by the Lord, we can touch another. If in a particular thing we have not been broken by the Lord, we can in no wise supply that need to our brother. At that very point our spirit is insensitive and impotent.
This is an invariable spiritual fact! Our spirit is released according to the degree of our brokenness. The one who has accepted the most discipline is the one who can best serve. The more one is broken, the more sensitive he is. The more loss one has suffered, the more he has to give. Wherever we desire to save ourselves, in that very thing we become spiritually useless. Whenever we preserve and excuse ourselves, at that point we are deprived of spiritual sensitivity and supply. Let no one imagine he can be effective and disregard this basic principle.
Only those who have learned can serve. You may learn ten years' lessons in one year or take twenty or thirty years to learn one year's lesson. Any delay in learnings means a delay in serving. If God has put a desire in your heart to serve Him, you should understand what is involved. The way of service lies in brokenness, in accepting the discipline of the Holy Spirit. The measure of your service is determined by the degree of discipline and brokenness. Be assured that human emotion or cleverness cannot help. How much you really possess is based upon how much God has wrought in your life. Therefore, the more you are dealt with, the keener is your perception of man. The more you are disciplined by the Holy Spirit, the more readily your spirit can touch another.
It is very important to remember that while God's Spirit is given to the believer once for all, our spirit must go on learning throughout life. Thus the more we learn, the more we can discern. It is a source of grief to us that so many brothers and sisters in the Lord do not know how to exercise spiritual discernment. Too many fail to differentiate between what is of the Lord and what is of human nature. Only as we have experienced the Lord's strict dealing with us in a certain matter can we quickly detect even the initial sprouting in others. We do not need to wait for its fruit. We can discern long before harvest time. So our spiritual sensitivity is gradually gained through experiencing God's hand upon us. For example, someone may mentally condemn pride, yes, even preach against it, yet not sense the sinfulness of pride in his own spirit. Thus when pride appears in his brother, his spirit is not distressed ; it may even be sympathetic. Then the day comes when God's Spirit so works in his life that he really sees what pride is. He is dealt with by God, and his pride is consumed. Though his preaching against pride may sound the same as before, yet now every time a spirit of pride appears in his brother, he senses its ugliness and is distressed. What he has learned and seen from God enables him to sense and to be distressed. ("Distress" most suitably describes such an inward sensitivity.) Now that he recognizes this ailment, he can serve his brother. Once he was attacked by the same affliction ; now he is cured. (This does not imply that he should claim complete deliverance—simply that he knows some measure of cure.) This is how we come to spiritual knowledge.
Spiritual sensitivity comes about only through many dealings. Are we really profited if we preserve ourselves? "For whosoever shall save his life shall lose it." We must ask the Lord not to withdraw His hand from us. How tragic not to recognize what the Lord is doing. We may even be unwittingly resisting His hand. The absence of spiritual understanding is due to the lack of spiritual learning. Therefore, let us realize that the more we are dealt with, the more we shall know men and things, and the more we can supply others' needs. There is no other way to enlarge the sphere of service ; we must broaden the scope of dealings.
Once these basic lessons have been learned, we find our spirit is released and able to pinpoint the real condition of others. How can we put this into practice?
To touch man's spirit we must wait till he opens his mouth and talks. Few ever arrive at the place where they can touch man's spirit without first hearing what he has to say. The Word of God says : "For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks" (Matthew 12:34). Whatever his real intention may be, his spirit is revealed by what his mouth speaks. If he is haughty, a haughty spirit will manifest itself ; if hypocritical, a hypocritical spirit will be evident; or if envious, a jealous spirit. As you listen to him speak, you can touch his spirit. Do not merely pay attention to what he says, but especially note his spirit's condition. We really know man not by his words alone, but by his spirit.
On one occasion when the Lord Jesus was traveling toward Jerusalem, two of the disciples saw that the Samaritans did not receive Him. They questioned Him : "Lord wilt Thou that we command fire to come down from heaven and consume them as also Elias did?" (Luke 9:54). As they were speaking, their spirit was revealed. The Lord's reply was, "Ye know not of what spirit ye are" (9:55). The Lord shows us here that to listen to man's words is to know his spirit. As soon as the words are uttered, the spirit is revealed, "for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks."
There is yet another point to bear in mind. When you are listening to a conversation, do not allow the topic under discussion to distract you from the spirit. Suppose two brothers are involved in a quarrel, each one blaming the other. If this matter is brought to you, how are you to deal with it? Although you may have no objective way of checking the facts if only the two are present, you do know that, as soon as they open their mouths, their spirits are revealed. Among Christians, right or wrong is judged not only by action but also by the spirit. When a brother starts to talk, you may sense immediately that his spirit is wrong, though you may lack factual information in the case. One brother may complain that the other scolded him, but immediately you sense his spirit is not right! The real issue is with the spirit.
Before God, right or wrong is determined not so much by the deed as by the spirit. How often in the Church a wrong deed is accompanied by a wrong spirit. But if judgment is made solely according to the deed, we have dragged the Church into another realm. We should be in the realm of the spirit, not in that of mere outward action.
Once our own spirit has been released, we can detect the condition of others' spirits. If we contact a spirit which is closed, we have to exercise our spirit in judging the issue and discerning the man. May we be able to say with Paul, "We henceforth know no one according to flesh" (2 Cor. 5:16). We do not know man according to flesh, but according to spirit. Having learned this basic lesson, we provide a way for God to work out His purpose.
|Chapter 3||Table of Contents||Chapter 5|