Life-Study of 2 Corinthiansby Witness Lee
Printed Copy: Available Online from Living Stream Ministry
Printed Copy: Available Online from Living Stream Ministry
The ministry of the new covenant is a very great matter. It includes the entire New Testament of twenty-seven books. In foregoing messages we have seen from chapter three of 2 Corinthians that in the Old Testament age there was only one ministry, a ministry that was called in 2 Corinthians 3 the ministry of death and condemnation. Christians, however, often consider that in the Old Testament there were three different kinds of ministries: the ministry of the priesthood, the ministry of the kingship, and the ministry of the prophethood. Christians have this concept because the Old Testament speaks of three classes of people—the priests, the kings, and the prophets. Since these three kinds of people can be found in the Old Testament, many students and teachers of the Bible have thought that in the Old Testament there were three kinds of ministries.
Paul regarded the entire Old Testament as the law. In 1 Corinthians 14:21 he says, “In the law it is written, In other tongues and with other lips I will speak to this people, even so they will not listen to Me, says the Lord.” In this verse Paul quotes a portion from the book of Isaiah. Although Isaiah was a prophet, Paul refers to the book of Isaiah as the law. This indicates that the books of the prophets were also considered part of the law. Actually the entire Old Testament was regarded as the law. This is a proof that in Old Testament times there was a unique ministry. This was the ministry of the old covenant, the ministry of death and condemnation.
In the New Testament there is also a unique ministry. The twelve Apostles all had this unique ministry. After Judas betrayed the Lord and committed suicide, Peter stood up and said that Judas had been numbered with them and “had obtained part of this ministry” (Acts 1:17). Then they prayed for the Lord to show whom He had chosen to “take part of this ministry and apostleship” (v. 25). This indicates that the apostles all had one ministry. It was not a case of Peter having a ministry, John having another ministry, and James having yet another ministry. If that had been the situation, the twelve Apostles would have had twelve different ministries. No, they had one ministry, the unique ministry. Eventually, more apostles were raised up by the Lord. The most prominent of them was Paul. Paul and his co-workers also had the same ministry, the unique ministry of the new covenant. Therefore, in the New Testament there are many apostles, but there is only one ministry. This new covenant ministry is a ministry of the Spirit and of righteousness.
Throughout the centuries there have been only two ministries: the ministry of the old covenant and the ministry of the new covenant. However, among Christians today there are many different ministries. The reason Christians have been divided into groups and denominations is that they have invented many different kinds of ministries. Every denomination has its own ministry. The Episcopalians have an Episcopalian ministry, the Methodists have the Methodist ministry, and the Baptists, Presbyterians, and Pentecostals each have their ministries.
Today some who regard themselves as broad-minded want to embrace all the different kinds of ministries to prove that they are not narrow, sectarian, or divisive. They want to be all-inclusive and receive ministries from Catholicism, the Greek Orthodox Church, the Protestant denominations, and all the independent groups. This is in contrast to the new covenant ministry, which is unique. The new covenant ministry is unique in nature, essence, function, and purpose.
In what kind of ministry are we? In particular, what kind of ministry do you have? Certainly none of us would say that we are in the old covenant ministry of death and condemnation. Are you in the ministry of Catholicism? of Greek Orthodoxy? of one of the Protestant denominations?
Those who have the Baptist ministry will certainly emphasize baptism by immersion. Those in the Episcopalian ministry will surely be in favor of bishops. Likewise, those who have the Presbyterian ministry will be in favor of the administration of the presbytery. Those in these denominations practice such ministries. Furthermore, these denominations have been established to carry out such ministries. The Pentecostals also have their own kind of ministry, a ministry that emphasizes tongue-speaking, healing, and miracles. But none of these ministries is the unique ministry of the new covenant. Is the ministry of the new covenant a ministry of baptism by immersion? A ministry of bishops, presbytery, or tongue-speaking? Certainly the answer to these questions is no. The new covenant ministry is absolutely a ministry of the Spirit and of righteousness. This is the unique ministry in the New Testament.
When we say that the new covenant ministry is unique, we do not mean that it is the ministry of only one person. For example, it is slanderous to accuse me of saying that the unique ministry today is the ministry of Witness Lee. We do not say this, and we do not mean this. By the unique ministry, the new covenant ministry, we mean the ministry of the Spirit and of righteousness. Whoever ministers the Spirit and righteousness to others is one in the unique ministry, no matter who he may be. Peter, John, James, Paul, Timothy, Titus, Apollos—they all had the one ministry. The ministers are many, but the ministry is unique. As long as you minister the Spirit and righteousness to others, you are in this unique ministry.
A number of times I have been asked something like this: “Brother Lee, you say that the ministry is unique. This means that there is just one ministry. When you say that there is one ministry, that the ministry is unique, do you mean that your ministry is this unique ministry?” Some of those who question me like this may have the concept that I think of myself as someone like Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism. I always answer this question by saying, “No, I definitely do not mean that my ministry is the unique ministry.”
Others may go on to ask if we accept all ministries. The answer is that we do not accept all different kinds of ministries. Then some may say, “On the one hand, you say that your ministry is not the unique ministry. On the other hand, you do not accept all ministries. What, then, do you practice regarding the ministry?” Because those who ask this question may be short of knowledge and may also be under the drugging effect of traditional concepts, it is not easy to explain the matter to them. I may say to myself, “I simply am what I am. But you have been drugged and cannot understand what the New Testament says concerning the ministry.” The ministry of the new covenant is unique; it is the ministry of the Spirit and of righteousness. Although we do not accept all different kinds of ministries, we do accept the ministry of anyone who truly ministers the Spirit and righteousness.
What I am speaking in this message concerning the ministry is something new and also something old. It is old because it was in existence nearly two thousand years ago. On the other hand, it is something new because it is a matter which has been lost and recovered. We thank the Lord that He has recovered the truth concerning the ministry. We thank Him for showing us from 2 Corinthians 3 that in the Bible there are two ministries: the old covenant ministry—the ministry of death and condemnation; and the new covenant ministry—the ministry of the Spirit and of righteousness.
As a Christian, or as one who regards himself as having a certain kind of ministry, what kind of ministry do you have? If you are not in the ministry of the new covenant, that is, in the ministry which ministers Christ as the life-giving Spirit and as righteousness to others, then you must tell us what kind of ministry you have. In what ministry are you? If you are not in the ministry of the Spirit and righteousness and not in the ministry of death and condemnation, in what ministry are you? Some may say that they have the ministry of gospel preaching. This answer is not adequate. You should be able to say that your ministry of gospel preaching is a part of the unique new covenant ministry in which you minister Christ to others as the Spirit and righteousness. It is better not to say that we have the ministry of gospel preaching. Rather, we should say that our preaching of the gospel is part of the unique new covenant ministry.
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