By Zac Poonen
The first epistle of John was written when John was about 95 years old. He was the only living apostle at that time. All the others had been killed. John had seen the day of Pentecost and the tremendous revival with which the Church of Jesus Christ had started. He also saw in his time the decline of many of the churches that had started in revival.
Perhaps the other apostles who had died earlier had not seen this decline to the same extent as John. But John saw that many churches that had once begun with tremendous power, great fervency and the Spirit's fullness, had declined to the place where they had lost their first love and backslidden in other ways too (as we read in Revelation 2 and 3).
But the elders (messengers) in those backslidden churches were still sitting on their thrones. One of the elders only had a name that he was alive, when he was actually dead. Another was so lukewarm that the Lord warned him that He would spit him out of His mouth. Yet another was allowing the false prophetess Jezebel, to lead people astray. All these terrible things were happening in their churches and yet those elders just sat back and did nothing about it. Both churches and elders had lost their zeal. This was the condition of those churches at the end of the first century.
Imagine how grieved John must have been and how he must have sorrowed. With this burden in his heart, he writes his first epistle. That's the background of this letter.
It is important to see what John emphasizes in his letter and what he doesn't - because Christendom's condition today is very similar to what I have just described.
There were great spiritual movements in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, in different parts of the world - mighty movements that God started through men who knew Him. These movements were born in revival, but they have all descended to the same level as the churches in John's time. Compromise and corruption are rampant among them. Elders have gone the way of Balaam, seeking after money. They permit immoral standards among people in their churches. That too is part of the way of Balaam, for he led Israel astray by making them sin with the daughters of Moab.
We see so much similarity in what's happening in Christian churches today with what happened at the end of the first century. The problem is not with doctrine primarily, but with life. Evangelical churches and charismatic churches have all gone the way of the world. The spiritual power they once had is gone!
Bearing the burden of the backslidden churches on his heart, John writes much in 1 John 3 about loving one another. "By this, the children of God, and the children of the devil are obvious." (1 John 3:10). John divides all people in the world into two categories here - "children of God" and "children of the devil". And he says that the way to find out the difference is this: "Anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God. Nor the one who does not love his brother." This is a very clear distinction. One who does not love his brother is not of God. He may perhaps have many reasons why he cannot love his brother, but he is not of God.
In verses 11 and 12, we read, "For this is the message, which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. And not be as Cain, who was of the evil one, and slew his brother Abel."
When Jesus spoke about righteous people, he began with Abel. He said, "From the blood of righteous Abel, to the blood of Zechariah......" (Matt.23:35).
So Abel was righteous. But Cain, as we saw, belonged to the evil one, because he killed his brother. 1 John 3:12 goes on to say, "And for what reason did he slay him? Because his deeds were evil, and his brothers were righteous."
Now I want you to read that verse carefully. It does not say that Cain's deeds were evil after he slew Abel. No. It says that his deeds were evil even before he slew Abel.
Why did Cain slay his brother? Because he was an evil man. We have often heard it said that God accepted Abel because he offered a blood-sacrifice, and that God rejected Cain because he didn't offer a blood-sacrifice. But there is more to it than that. See what it says here about Cain. "His deeds were evil; his brother's deeds were righteous."
And John goes on to say in verse 13, "Don't marvel brethren if the world hates you." He's talking about Cain hating Abel. Don't marvel if the world hates you. Hatred is the mark of the sons of Cain, and all who follow "the way of Cain" (as Jude calls it in verse 11 of his letter).
In verse 14 John says, "We know we have passed out of death into life" - not because we were baptized and not because we partake of the bread and the wine, no, but "because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death." John is still thinking of Cain as he writes this.
We are to love everyone. It doesn't matter which church those others belong to. "He who hates his brother is a murderer." Everyone who hates someone else is a murderer. "And you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him." The way of Cain, is the way of hatred.
In contrast, in verse 16 John says that the proof of love is this that instead of slaying your brother, you slay yourself! You lay down your life. "We know love by this, that He laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren."
Notice that in both cases there is a death. In one we kill our brothers and in the other, we die ourselves!!
Cain killed his brother. That's the way of evil. The children of the devil manifest themselves by slaying their brothers and sisters. The children of God are revealed by their putting their own self-life to death.
Cain smashed Abel's head in with a rock. But today people are gentler - they don't use rocks, they use their tongues! When you tear down your brothers and sisters with your tongue, speaking evil of them and making them look bad and small in the eyes of others, you're actually slaying them.
In this the children of the devil are made manifest - because the devil is a murderer.
Revelation 12, verses 9 and 10 say that the devil accuses the brothers day and night. And just as God looks for co-workers, the devil also looks for co-workers, all over the world. What does the devil do day and night? Revelation 12, "He accuses the brethren, day and night."
And I want to remind you that the devil doesn't lie to God. He doesn't tell God false things about the brethren, because he knows that God knows everything! He tells God the truth. And the Devil is looking for co-workers across the world - who will speak the truth in the spirit of the accuser. An accuser need not tell false stories. The devil tells God the absolute truth, but he's still the accuser.
You too can speak the absolute truth, and still be an accuser of the brethren.
Hereby the children of the devil made manifest. That's the way of Cain - and no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.
He who has ears to hear, let him hear this: "No murderer has eternal life abiding in him." Whatever doctrine you may believe, whichever way you were baptized, whether you speak in tongues or not, whether you break bread or not, however long your skirts may be, "no murderer has eternal life abiding in him."
Do you slay your brother or sister?
When Ham told Shem and Japheth that their father Noah was lying down drunk and , he spoke the absolute truth. He never spoke one falsehood. He said "Dad is lying , after he got drunk."
And for saying that, God not only cursed Ham, but cursed his children too. For what did God curse Ham? For speaking the truth in the spirit of the accuser. And that curse remains on all who accuse their brethren today.
From Genesis 9 onwards, all the way to Revelation 12, we read about many accusers who spoke only the truth. So remember that we don't escape by saying that we only spoke the truth about someone. Ham spoke the truth too. The devil also tells God, "I'm only speaking the truth..." . But he is still the accuser.
But Jesus also does something for us day and night. It says in Hebrews 7:25, "He ever liveth to make intercession for them...."
Consider a brother or a sister here who has some fault. Maybe he's drunk, maybe he's . But he's still our brother.
Most Christians begin their accusations long before they see what Ham saw. Drunkenness and ness are serious matters. But long before a brother goes that far, we may see some small fault in him - something that irritates us. Jesus sees it. Satan sees it. And we see it. Satan is quick to accuse. Jesus is quick to intercede. What do we do?
Both Satan and Jesus are looking for co-workers. We can take our pick as to which of the two we want to work with. Whenever you see a weakness or a sin in a brother, in that moment, you come to a fork in the road. There are only two ways at that fork - the way of intercession and the way of accusation. Jesus goes one way and Satan takes the other road. Now you have to decide which of these two ways you are going to take.
We all come to this fork often. And we don't usually stand there. We move forward. Some people think they're spiritual because they stand there without either accusing or interceding. They don't take either road. But that's not spirituality because Jesus has taken one road and He's not standing still.
When we accuse, we get into fellowship with Satan. But when we intercede, we enter into fellowship with Jesus.
By this the children of God, and the children of the devil are made obvious. The distinction between them is made crystal clear. There is no hiding it.
Why did Cain slay his brother? Let's turn to Genesis 4. Verse 3 says, "Cain brought an offering to the Lord. Abel also brought an offering to the Lord." Cain was not an atheist. Cain was a deeply religious man. The children of the devil are not all atheists. Most of them, like the Pharisees, are deeply religious. The way of Cain is not the way of atheism; it's the way of religion. It's also the way bringing offerings to God. Cain brought an offering. Abel also brought an offering. But notice something here. We may have thought that it was Abel's offering that the Lord accepted first. But read carefully. It says in the last part of verse 4: "The Lord had regard for Abel, and for his offering." It was Abel whom the Lord accepted first, and that was why He accepted Abel's offering.
Don't read it the other way around - that the Lord accepted Abel's offering first and therefore accepted Abel. That's how you may have been taught, but that's not what the Bible says. We can believe many false teachings if we are careless in reading Scripture.
"The Lord had regard for Abel and for his offering. But for Cain and His offering He had no regard."
It was the same with Cain. God didn't disregard his offering but him. Therefore He rejected Cain's offering.
We may think, "If I bring the blood of Christ before God, I'll be all right". No, you won't, if your heart is not right with your brother. When you come to God's altar with the blood of Jesus, and there remember that your brother has something against you, your offering will not be accepted. "Leave your offering there," Jesus said, "Go and settle things with your brother first. Then come and bring your offering to God." (Matt.5:23,24).
Don't live under the deception that because you have trusted in the blood of Christ, you're all right. If you have slain your brother with your tongue, you must go and settle that matter with him first. Only then will the Lord have regard for you and therefore for your offerings. It is only the prayer of a righteous man that has great effect (James 5:16). If your heart is not right, God will not accept your prayers or your offerings. That's clear.
We read in verse 5 that "Cain became very angry, and his countenance fell." One mark of those who are not right with God is that there is no cheerfulness in their countenance. Their face is fallen. The psalmist said, "The Lord is my glory, and the lifter of my head." When our face is fallen, we can be sure that something is wrong. The very first words that God ever asked a human being, outside the garden of Eden were, "Why is your face fallen? Why are you angry?" Don't ever forget that. He will ask you the same question.
Why is your face clouded? You just came from a prayer meeting where you offered prayers to God! You are a deeply religious person! Then why is your face fallen? Cain too had just come from a meeting where He had offered something to God! Should your face be fallen after you've gone to a meeting or after you've read the Bible? Why then is your face fallen?
I'm always suspicious of people who cannot look me straight in the eye. I'll give you all a simple bit of advice. When a person does not look you straight in the face, when he cannot make eye contact with you, it indicates that something is wrong somewhere. That's what the Lord was asking Cain, "Why can't you make eye contact with me, Cain? What's wrong? Why is your face fallen? Why do you have such a long face?"
Then the Lord said to Cain (and let me paraphrase the Lord's words here), "If you intend well in your heart won't your face be lifted up? You will certainly be accepted! I have no partiality, Cain. All are the same to me." If your heart is clean and the intention of your heart towards all your brothers and sisters is good, your face will always be lifted up!
When your face is fallen, something is wrong. And that's not because of the way the other person treated you. No. It's because of your attitude towards that person - whether that be your husband, your wife, your parents, a brother, an elder brother or anyone. Something is wrong there.
"But if you don't intend well in your heart, then, (God says to Cain), sin is crouching at the door of your heart."
Don't ever think that sin is far away from any of us. Jesus taught us to pray saying, "Our Father who art in heaven, lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil..." That means, "Oh God, please keep me far away from temptation. Don't allow me to go along that way. Deliver me from evil." But if you don't intend well, sin is not far away, but crouching at the door - like a lion or a tiger, waiting outside your door, waiting for a slight opening so that he can get his foot in. Soon, he will come right in.
"Its desire is for you!", God warned Cain. Sin's desire - like a tiger's or a lion's - is to eat us up.
But God told Cain, "You must master it." (Gen.4:7). Notice in the in the very first message that God ever gave man outside the Garden of Eden He told him, "You must have victory over sin." That is God's message to man, not just in Romans 6:14, but in the very beginning of human history!
You must master sin! You must master that sin that is crouching at your door! The message of victory over sin was not an afterthought with God. On the contrary, it is there at the very beginning of the Bible, one of the very first things that God ever proclaimed to man.
Inside the garden of Eden, God killed an animal and shed its blood (symbolizing the death of Christ on Calvary), threw away the fig leaves Adam and Eve were wearing (which symbolized human righteousness and religious coverings) and clothed Adam and Eve with the animal's skin (symbolizing Christ's righteousness).
Fig leaves will wither up in time - and so will human righteousness and religious rituals. You can't wear fig leaves forever! That's why Jesus cursed the fig tree, when he saw only leaves on it. That was a picture of human righteousness! Human righteousness has been cursed from the day of Adam. They are like filthy rags in God's eyes (Isa.64:6).
Instead, God gave Adam and Eve something that would last forever - animal skins. That is how He clothes us today - with the righteousness of Christ.
So, these are the very first things we need to do to find our way back to God. Accept the shed blood of a substitute, get rid of the fig leaves of our own human righteousness and accept the righteousness of Christ to clothe us.
But after that, the next message we need to hear is this: "You must have victory over sin."
It's all there, way back in Genesis 4! You must master sin! This wrong attitude towards your brother - you must overcome it! You mustn't allow it to remain.
I believe the Lord is saying that to many of us right now. Do you intend well? Is your attitude right? If it is wrong, then sin is crouching at your door, and you must master it! A voice of love from heaven pleads with you right now.
Why should God plead with man? He could very well have said, "Cain has enough understanding and he shouldn't have a wrong attitude towards his brother", and rejected him without even giving him a chance. But God pleaded with Cain and He pleads with us. The father of the prodigal son, went out and pleaded with his elder son, saying, "Why do you have a wrong attitude toward your younger brother? Why are you jealous of the fact that I have honored him and made him sit with me at my table....Come in!" But the elder brother wouldn't listen.
It was the same with Cain. He didn't listen to God either, for he had no fear of God.
Cain went from there and met Abel and called him out for a walk. Abel innocently went out with him, and Cain smashed his head in and killed him. Then the Lord asked Cain, "Where is Abel, your brother?" Cain replied, "I don't know."
When your conscience is hardened, you can tell a lie even to God? It's a terrible thing not to listen even when God pleads with you. Has your conscience become so hard that you can lie, not only to men but even to God.
Cain said, "I don't know. Am I my brother's keeper?" And God replied saying, "What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood is crying to me from the ground. Now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand."
When Adam and Eve sinned, God never cursed them. Read Genesis 3 carefully. He never cursed them. He cursed the ground, but not Adam and Eve.
Here however, we see the first time that God cursed a man - when the man harmed his brother.
Please remember this, my brothers and sisters. The first time God ever cursed a man was when a man harmed his brother. Have you harmed your brother or your sister? Do you fear God?
In this the children of God and the children of devil are made obvious....
One mark of God's curse is described in verse 12. God said to Cain, "When you cultivate the ground, it shall not yield its strength to you. You shall be a vagrant and a wanderer on the earth."
You may preach, but there will be no blessing or fruit in your labors. You will go somewhere and try to build a church but it will not be built as the Body of Christ. Whatever you build will collapse. You may even preach the very same messages that you heard on all these tapes and that you read in many books. But they will still not produce fruit. You will cultivate the ground and you will work hard, but there will be no eternal fruit. You will be alone. You will be a vagrant, and a wanderer. You will gather people and you will lose them one by one. You will be alone. You will wander from one church to another. You'll be a wanderer, a vagrant and a tramp! You will try one church and find something wrong there. You'll go to another church and there will be something wrong there too. You'll be a wanderer all your life. I have seen many people like this in my lifetime. They allowed the tiger to enter the door and swallow them up and they imagined that they could still serve God. That's not just sad, it's tragic!
In this, is obvious the children of God, and the children of the devil.
Such people have a wrong attitude towards someone in their hearts. God speaks to them, but they will not allow God to break them. They have plenty of knowledge and their doctrines are all correct! But something is wrong in their hearts. So when they cultivate the ground, it does not yield any lasting fruit.
Are you like that? Fruitless?
Jesus said, "I've chosen you and ordained you that you should go and bring forth fruit. Herein is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit." (John 15:16).
It is impossible for a branch to remain in a good vine, and for it to be fruitless. That is impossible when Jesus is the Vine. It may happen with some other false vine. But if you're grafted into Jesus, it is impossible to be fruitless. If the sap, from the vine (the Holy Spirit) is flowing into the branches, it is impossible to be fruitless! You will bear fruit. But if you're a wanderer then of course you will be fruitless.
To be a wanderer does not necessarily mean being without a church-fellowship. I've seen many people who have come to our conferences in India and who think that the secret of God's blessing being upon our work is found in the doctrines we preach. So they get our books and our tapes and preach those very same messages. Some imagine that the secret is in the pattern of our meetings. So they go and duplicate that pattern where they live. But still there is spiritual death. Why? Bceause the secret is not in any of these things.
The secret of fruitfulness still lies in falling into the ground, and dying to your self-life - as Jesus taught in John 12:24. We must be cut off from the old vine and be grafted into the new, and allow the sap (the fullness of the Holy Spirit) to bring forth eternal fruit in us. The secret is not in a doctrine, it's not in a pattern; it's in a life, the life of Jesus.
Cain said, "My punishment is too great to bear. Thou hast driven me from the face of the ground and I shall be a vagrant and wanderer." I'm amazed at the Lord's tremendous compassion, even toward someone like Cain. He told Cain, "' I won't allow anybody to kill you.' And the Lord appointed a sign for Cain lest anyone finding him should slay him" (verse 15).
Cain could have repented and cried out saying, "Oh God, be merciful to me." But he didn't. He went out from the presence of the Lord. One of the first things he did thereafter was to build a city (verse 17). Do you know where city-life originated? With Cain - after he left the presence of the Lord!.
In Gen.4:17, we read that Cain, "named the city after his son.". His attitude was, "Let the name of my son be honored..." He couldn't care less about the name of the Lord.
The other thing we read is that after Cain left the Lord's presence, his descendants began to produce various types of musical instruments (verse 21). Jubal was the father of those who play the lyre, and the pipe. They sat in the nights in those cities and spent their time playing music. The origin of rock music is right there, in Gen.4:21.
A lot of evil things begin to happen when you go away from the presence of the Lord. You lose your sense of direction, you become a wanderer, you long for the attractions of city life and music becomes your god. You lose all sense of God and you begin to live by your human understanding of right and wrong.
But where did all this start? We must identify the origin of these evils, so that we can nip them in the bud before they are full-grown. It all started when the fire of God fell on Abel's offering, and no fire fell on Cain's offering and Cain became jealous.
Have you got something of that in you. Then beware.
If Abel had been an older brother, Cain could have possibly borne it. But Abel was younger! He thought, "How can God anoint someone younger than me? How can God put a fire on someone younger than me?" That bothered him. And thereafter, he was determined to harm Abel.
Does that sound familiar? Perhaps God has blessed somebody's ministry and you can't bear it and you are determined to find some fault with him or his ministry. But if the fire of God is upon that man, you should be humble enough to acknowledge that even though you may not approve of him, God must be approving of him - because God has regard for that man and his offering. That would be the right approach.
What I have said to my co-workers and fellow-elders in India is this: "It's good that you have understood the doctrines of victory over sin, building the body of Christ, coming out of Babylon and building Jerusalem etc., But I still want you to see whether God sends His fire on your sacrifices. If God doesn't send His fire from heaven, it means He is not supporting you. In that case, I'm not going to try and prop you up either. I want to follow after God. If God supports you, it will become manifest. He will bear witness to your life, to your family life and to your ministry. Then, I'll back you - even if I don't agree with you!! But if God doesn't bear witness to you or to your family life or to your ministry, then I'm sorry I can't support you. I want to follow after God, not go ahead of Him. I don't care if your doctrines are right. I don't care if you're following the same pattern that we have and do things the way we do them. All of that is no use, if God's fire is not there. Even if you are a close friend of mine, you won't get me to back you if God Himself doesn't back you."
I want to approve of those whom God approves of. And I will not approve of those whom God does not approve of. I don't want to know anyone after the flesh. I want to see if God is bearing witness to a man.
To tell you quite honestly, many doctrines are, in a sense, secondary to me. I don't care whether a man believes in the baptism in the Spirit or not, whether he speaks in tongues or not, whether he has the gift of healing or not, or whether he belongs to this denomination or that. Some doctrinal disagreements, I've discovered are because our minds are limited in understanding the truth of God. We are often unable to explain matters clearly. But if the fire of God is there, God is there! And if the fire of God is not there, God is not there - whatever else a man may claim to have and however much noise he may make in his meetings. If a man is a wanderer who has not been able to build a fellowship, then God is obviously not with him.
You can be a wanderer, even while sitting in a large church like this one! You may say, "How can that be?" "By not having fellowship with others around you."
You can have a thousand people sitting in a movie theatre. But one person doesn't know anything about the person sitting next to him. There's no fellowship in a movie-theatre. In the same way, 1,000 people may sit together in a church-building and they could all be lonely people. A husband and wife can live under the same roof and still be lonely, because they don't have fellowship with each other. There are parents and children, living under the same roof, who are "wanderers", without any fellowship with each other. They are lonely, even though they live together day after day. There are husbands and wives who glory in the fact that they haven't divorced each other - like others in the world. But they are still lonely. They have no fellowship with each other. They are vagrants and wanderers.
You can sit in the best church in the world and be a vagrant and a wanderer. And God doesn't bear witness to your life either, because you have something in your heart against your brother - jealousy. You cannot bear to see God bearing witness to your brother.
We see (here in Genesis 4) that the first sin, described in detail outside the Garden of Eden was jealousy. That is what led Cain to kill Abel.
And it is significant to note that the apostle John wrote about this when writing to the brothers and sisters in the churches in his time (1 John 3:12). When Jude wrote his letter, he also decided to write about "the way of Cain" (Jude 11). So the apostles must have considered this matter important.
So there we see that Cain is mentioned at the beginning of the Bible and at the end of the Bible. So there must be something that the Holy Spirit wants us to learn from his story.
What is "the way of Cain"?
It is the way of jealousy, and it leads to loneliness and wandering. It destroys fellowship. The way of Cain is a way in which you cannot bear to see God blessing someone else - especially if he is your peer or younger than you. It is a way where you cannot humble yourself and say, "Lord, I acknowledge that You have borne witness to this brother. I have a wrong attitude towards him. Please forgive me, Lord. Help me to love him and respect him."
I want to ask you quite honestly, my brothers and sisters: Do you think it is possible that God has a different opinion about a brother whom you don't like too much? Is it possible, sisters, that God has a different opinion about that sister whom you can't get along with? God seems to get along with her quite well, but you can't. Who then is likely to be at fault - you or God??
There's so much of jealousy in Christian work today. It seems to get in so easily. If there is jealousy in your heart, it certainly proves one thing: That you haven't seen the body of Jesus Christ.
Think of my physical body. There is no jealousy among its members. My left hand, for example, is never jealous that all the checks are signed by my right hand. It is not jealous that it doesn't get a single chance to sign a check! It doesn't say, "It's always him! Always him! He's always up there doing the important things and getting the honor!" No. Suppose the right hand gets hurt one day. Does the left hand then rejoice and say, "Ah! Now at last I'll have a chance to sign the checks"? If the left hand did sign a check, the bank wouldn't accept it, because it wouldn't recognize the signature!! There is no jealousy in the body! The left hand rejoices when the right hand signs the check and even when the right hand collects the money from the bank. What the left hand says is, "That's my money too, for we are all part of one body."
If a soul is saved through another brother's ministry, praise the Lord, for we are all part of the same Body - the Body of Jesus Christ! Have you seen that?
When we see God's blessing upon another brother's ministry somewhere, and churches being established through his labors, let us rejoice and say, "Praise the Lord! That's for my Lord's kingdom! I'm excited! I had nothing to do with it, but praise God that one part of my body went there and established the church." Can you rejoice like that? If you're humble, you will be able to. Ask yourself honestly whether you can rejoice when God doesn't use you to do a task, but uses somebody else.
Even the toes in our feet are happy if the body is honored. Those little toes could easily complain and say, "I never get a chance to be seen publicly. I'm always covered up in socks and shoes. Nobody ever sees me. I wish I could move a little higher up in the body, get a little promotion, and become like the hands or the tongue some day!" Those toes never think like that! On the contrary, they say, "If God keeps me covered up with socks and shoes for the rest of my life, that's quite all right with me. I'm perfectly happy. I can rejoice with the other members of my body in their ministry!"
So jealousy comes in only where people haven't seen that it was God Who placed them in a particular place in Christ's Body. 1 Corinthians 12:18 says, "God has placed the members, each one of them in the body, just as He desired." That is what many Christians have not seen.
God chose the right place for you in Christ's Body! And God chose the right place for me. So if you have a complaint about that, your complaints are actually against God.
Don't ever say, "That brother does not give me a chance to preach." That's a lot of nonsense! How can any brother hinder you from fulfilling the ministry God has appointed for you in Christ's Body. If Almighty God Himself has decided to give you a particular task in the Body, who can ever hinder you? No-one.
In my younger days, when I was just 23, I was in an assembly where it was plain to me (and to others) that the elders were jealous of my ministry. They wouldn't let me preach in the church-meetings. So I preached on the streets. Nobody could stop me there! And that's where I learned to preach - on the streets. I stood in almost every street corner of the town where I lived, and preached the gospel. None of the elders were interested in preaching on the streets. And when I came to the church-meetings, the Lord would tell me to humble myself, submit to the elders, love them, keep a good relationship with them and keep my mouth shut!! And that's what I did. Even today, after nearly forty years, when I see those men, I have a good relationship with them. God broke me and crushed me through such experiences.
Those elders made me sit in the back of the assembly because they were jealous. But it was obviously not God's time for me to have a ministry then. So they just fulfilled God's will for y life by what they did! And I waited.
I have often thought of Jesus sitting in the synagogue in Nazareth, listening to all the boring sermons that the Pharisees preached there, year after year. He knew the Scriptures and He knew His Father when He was 12! Yet He sat in the synagogue, listening to the trash dished out Saturday after Saturday!! He kept quiet when He was 23 years old. He kept quiet when he was 29 years old - perfectly quiet. Can you imagine all the boring sermons Jesus heard there? He went to the synagogue regularly - 52 Saturdays every year - from childhood to the age of 30. So He must have listened to more than 1000 boring sermons in His life! Yet He sat through them all, waiting - for He knew that His hour had not yet come. The Father's time for Him to preach had not yet come.
But today I see young people who are impatient. They think they're ready to preach, but they are not! They haven't been broken! They've never submitted to authority. They are jealous! And God can never bear witness to them.
God allowed this to happen to me not just once, but again and again - first in one assembly, then in another and years later, in yet another. And He always told me to keep my mouth shut and to wait for His time. So I kept my mouth shut. He always told me to keep a good relationship with the elders in those churches and to submit to them. And I did that. Thus God crushed my self-life again and again - and set me free!
God cannot commit spiritual authority to a man who has not been broken. That would be dangerous. It would be like having open electric wires running through our house, without any insulation. That would kill us. Electricity is a very useful thing, but every wire must be insulated. It's not enough to have power; we must have insulation too.
It's not enough to have the power of the Holy Spirit, we need brokenness too. Then we won't kill anyone through our ministry. Brokenness is the insulation. And that can come only as we allow God to crush us and humble us through different situations.
God has a plan for you, my brother, my sister! Not a single human being in the world can frustrate that plan - no matter how hard they try to push you down. People may have tried to keep Jesus down for many years. But one day, when His Father told Him to GO, He went. And then the Father said, "I am well pleased with my Son!" The Father was well pleased with Jesus' humility, seeing Him sit quietly for 30 years in the synagogue! There is a time and a season for everything in God's plans and purposes. And no-one can hinder God's plan.
And in the next 3½ years, Jesus had such an anointed ministry, such as the world has never seen. In those 3½ years, He did what others can't do in 3000 years. Let us learn humility from Jesus. He would not move until His Father told him to. He submitted to imperfect Joseph and Mary at home. He submitted to listening to boring sermons in the synagogue. We see His humility in these actions.
It says in Isaiah 53:10, "It pleased the Lord to crush Him." Has it pleased the Lord to crush you? Have you allowed the Lord to crush you? That's how we can have authority. God cannot use a man or a woman who has not been broken.
Sisters, God may use a difficult husband to crush you. But perhaps, you rebel and fight back. You may not have joined the "Women's Liberation" movement. But if people saw you at home, they'd think you have! You don't wear a badge with "Women's Lib" on you. But perhaps it can be seen in your attitude! What is the result of that attitude? You haven't changed your husband. And you yourself are a wanderer, without any fellowship and without any spiritual authority. You could have probably become a woman of God long ago, if you had learned submission to authority.
I see many young people today - even in the church - who think they know more than their parents, and who will not submit to the authority of their parents. But what is their spiritual condition? They are vagrants and wanderers.
Young people, don't waste your life. Learn to submit! Don't expose the ness of your parents, like Ham did. That will bring a curse upon you and your children. Maybe your parents naked, maybe they're drunk! Let God deal with them. You cover them. Love covers a multitude of sins. Be like Shem and Japheth who walked backwards and covered the ness of their parents. That is submission to authority.
But unfortunately, we have a "smart" young generation today, who imagine that they know so much. They think they know more than their parents, because they're smart and educated, whereas their parents are not. But what's the use of all that smartness and knowledge, if God isn't bearing witness to you? Where is the fire? You may have plenty of knowledge, but where's the fire?
It is easy to imitate something. For example, the pattern of the tabernacle is given us in great detail in the book of Exodus. It is easy for anyone to make one exactly like that today. You can follow the instructions given there, and make one of the same size with the correct material. But one thing will still be missing from it - the fire that rested on the tabernacle. You can't reproduce that. The glory of God can never be reproduced by anything you ever do.
That glory is the mark of God's presence. It's not the pattern of the tabernacle that is most important. When Israel backslid, the pattern remained but the glory departed. Don't ever imagine that the pattern of a church is the main thing. I've never believed that. I've seen a lot of churches that don't follow exactly what I understand to be the New Testament pattern for the local church. But if I see the fire of God there, I say that's the main thing. The other things are secondary.
I don't go looking for ram's skins dyed red. I look for the fire. What are you looking for? Are you checking whether the ram's skin are dyed with the right color of red or perhaps whether the right number of boards are present in the tabernacle - or are you looking for the fire? I don't look for the pattern when I go to a church. I only want to see if the fire is there? Not the fire of human emotion but the genuine fire of God. If that is there, I know God is there.
Is the fire of God present in your church? Is the fire of God in your ministry? Does God bear witness to you? That's the most important thing. That's what made Abel's sacrifice stand apart from Cain's.
Is there jealousy in your heart because God is blessing somebody else? Perhaps God is blessing someone's ministry and you are saying, "How can God bear witness to that person when he's got this particular doctrine wrong." Perhaps God doesn't consider that doctrine as important as you do. He values humility and sincerity far more.
I've had to learn many lessons in my life. A lot of things that I once thought were important, I now realize God doesn't consider so important. And a lot of other things, that I considered unimportant, I saw that God considers as important.
God considers humility to be very important. That is fundamental. He also considers freedom from the love of money as very important. These are some of the doctrines that God considers as important - humility and freedom from the love of money.
But have you ever seen any denomination's doctrinal statement having, "Freedom from the love of money" as one of its doctrines? Or "freedom from jealousy"? Those are the things that God looks for first, before He can send His fire upon us! We can glory in our being correct in Biblical facts and ignore these important issues related to our character.
Let me show you another example of jealousy in the Old Testament. Turn with me to Numbers, chapter 16. I want you to notice something here in verse 1. Please read very carefully and notice that four people are mentioned here - Korah, Dathan, Abiram and On. These were the four people who rose up against Moses. They were jealous of Moses. They just couldn't bear seeing God bearing witness to Moses time after time after time. They couldn't bear it. And so they began walking "the way of Cain". That's why Jude combines the rebellion of Korah with the way of Cain in his letter (Jude 11).
These four men couldn't bear to see that Moses always had an anointed word from God, each time He spoke! Finally their jealousy overflowed from their hearts through their mouths and they told Moses, "You've gone too far. Everyone is holy. We believe in the priesthood of all believers! The Lord is in the midst of all of us! Why do you exalt yourself?"
In actual fact, Moses had never exalted himself. God had called him out of the wilderness when he was keeping Jethro's sheep. And even then Moses had asked the Lord to send somebody else, saying he felt himself unfit for the task. He didn't exalt himself. It was God Who had seen Moses' faithfulness and exalted him!
So what does Moses do now? Number 16:4 says he fell on his face. That's the best thing to do when people accuse us. Don't defend yourself. Let God do your defending. Fall on your face. If people question your authority, fall on your face. If God doesn't defend you, it's no use you trying to defend yourself. God can deal with all the Korahs, the Dathans and the Abirams better than you can.
Long, long ago, God said to me, "When people accuse you or question your ministry, fall on your face." That's what I've done for more than 30 years now. I know that God can do a better job than I can of defending myself - and He has.
Moses said to them, "Tomorrow, the Lord will show who is holy." So they came along the next day. Who were the four men who had risen against Moses? Korah, Dathan, Abiram, and On.
But the next morning, notice what the Lord says to the congregation, "Get back from around the dwellings of Korah, Dathan and Abiram." (verse 24)
Notice that only three of the original four are now standing against Moses. What happened to the fourth one - On? He obviously got some sense the previous night, and pulled out. He must have gone to Korah and said, "Brother, I'm not joining you in this. Count me out." Thus On saved his life and saved his family as well - because he pulled away from the spirit of rebellion that he sensed in the other three leaders.
On, the son of Peleth, was a sensible man!
What about you? Are you sensible? Do you join with others who have a spirit of rebellion? Are you jealous of someone whom God has anointed? I say to you, "Pull Back!. Pull back before it is too late. Save yourself and your children." Learn a lesson from On, the son of Peleth.
The other Israelites also repented of joining Korah, Dathan and Abiram in their rebellious spirit and pulled back from their tents. And the earth opened its mouth, and swallowed up these three rebels and their households (verse 32).
They suffered - and their families suffered. How sad it is when a father's rebellious attitude affects his children too! When a father rebels, his children suffer!
We read of heaven opening twice and God taking two people alive into Heaven - Enoch and Elijah. But this is the only place in the Bible where we read that Hell opened up and that people went alive into Hell. Verse 33 says, "They went alive into hell."
Let's never forget that the only time when God sent people alive into hell was when He saw them being jealous of a ministry that He had endorsed! That should scare us.
When the fire fell on Abel's sacrifice, Cain was jealous. So God cursed him. When God's anointing was on Moses, those three rebels were jealous. So God commanded the earth to swallow them alive into hell.
But 3,500 years later, today, many Christians still haven't learned to recognize those whom God endorses.
God's endorsement of a man is not seen in the large number of people he can gather. No. I've never been impressed by numbers. False cults have large numbers. And false religions have large numbers too. Statistics can be deceptive. Jesus had only eleven disciples. The anointing of God is not seen in large numbers. When I talk of God's endorsement and the fire of heaven, I'm talking about the quality of our work.
I'll know whether the anointing of God is on my life not by the number of people who join my church, but by the quality of the people who join it. I have often felt that if, by the end of my life, I could produce 11 people in India, of the quality of those first apostles, I would say like Simeon, "Lord, Thy servant can now depart in peace". But that's not easy.
What encourages me most in the years of our ministry in India is not the number of churches that we have planted or the thousands of believers in them, but rather the quality of some of our elders whom God has raised up to lead the churches. I consider them to be some of the godliest people in the land of India. That's what encourages me the most - the quality of those men and women - sacrificial and devoted to the Lord.
Perhaps you are a sister who has to spend most of your time at home. But God can make even you a blessing to many. He can use you to lead other sisters to a godly, Christ-like life. But you'll never make anyone godly, if you are going to gossip and backbite and slay others with your tongue.
So the earth opened up and swallowed those rebels. But now I want you to notice something interesting in Numbers chapter 26, verses 10 and 11. In verse 10, we read about "Dathan and Abiram who contended against Moses, in the company of Korah, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up along with Korah". But then it goes on to say in verse 11 that "The sons of Korah, however, did not die."
That is amazing! How did that happen? The sons of Korah also were standing there with their father outside their tent that morning. But when Moses gave them all a final warning, they obviously said, "Dad, we're pulling out of this", and ran away from their father and mother and stood with Moses. They escaped God's judgment at the last minute! And so the sons of Korah did not die. Praise the Lord!
Now I want you to look at Psalm 46. It says at the top of this psalm that this is "A psalm of the sons of Korah". The sons of Korah write here about their deliverance. What do they write?
Let's read from verse 1: "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the earth should open up and the mountains slip right in!"
Then see verse 8, "Come behold the works of the Lord. What desolations he has wrought in the earth."
And then verse 10, "Be still, (let go, cease striving, relax) and know that I am God."
There are some other wonderful psalms that the sons of Korah wrote - Psalm 42, Psalm 44, Psalm 45 (the bridal psalm of Jesus and His bride), Psalm 47, Psalm 48 and Psalm 49. Read these sometime. You'll find more meaning in them when you understand the background of these men who wrote them.
If these psalms were written by later descendants of the original sons of Korah, then we can understand how they would have realized that they would never have been born, if their fathers had not pulled out of the rebellion against Moses.
I want you to look at another example of jealousy in the Old Testament, in 2 Samuel 15. Here we read of Absalom, the son of David. David had been very good to Absalom. He had forgiven him for murdering his brother Amnon and recalled him from exile. I don't want to go into all that now. We read here in the last part of verse 33 of Second Samuel 14 that "The king kissed Absalom." David obviously loved him very much.
But in the next chapter, we read of how Absalom took advantage of David's goodness. We read in verse 2 that "Absalom used to rise up early in the morning and stand beside the way of the gate, and it happened that whenever a man who had a suit to come to the king for judgment, Absalom would call that man, put his arms around him and say, "What city are you from? And he would say, 'Your servant is from one of the tribes of Israel', and Absalom would say, 'See, your claims are good and right".
What Absalom continued to say to such people was (in verses 4 to 6), "I really appreciate your problem. I think you really need justice. But unfortunately, there is no one to listen to you. King David hasn't appointed anyone to take care of your needs." And then Absalom would go on to say, "You know, I really wish somebody would appoint me as the judge. I tell you I would sort out these problems in no time at all. If anyone had a problem, I would ensure that he gets justice."
And whenever anyone tried to prostrate himself before Absalom, he would lift him up and tell him, "Don't do that! I am only your brother! Don't humble yourself before me!" And then Absalom would kiss him. Thus (we read in verse 6) that Absalom stole the hearts of the men of Israel, from the man whom God had anointed.
That story has been repeated many times in these 3,000 years since then. Evil men have stolen the hearts of people away from many God's anointed man. Absalom couldn't bear to see God's blessing upon his father. Imagine a son being jealous of his own father! But I have seen this happen in my lifetime too. I have seen godly men, as spiritual fathers, nurturing and bringing up young men and leading them into a ministry. But after those young men, who were once nobodies, grew up and received a ministry, I have seen them despise and ignore their spiritual fathers and stealing the hearts of people away from their spiritual fathers. Do you think God doesn't see all this? He does.
In a little while, Absalom had such a following that his father David had to flee! The man after God's own heart had to flee for his life! And the usurper Absalom sat on the throne. But what's the use of sitting on the throne if God doesn't back you up? It was just a matter of time, before God destroyed him. I've seen that too happen, time and again.
The apostle Paul told the elders in Ephesus, in Acts chapter 20 and verses 29 and 30: "I know what's going to happen here after I leave. From among yourselves, men will arise, who will (like Absalom) draw away disciples after themselves - men who speak perverse things."
What were those perverse things Paul referred to? Those perverse things were not wrong doctrines. They were the words by which some of those elders would draw people to themselves. They would have a private agenda in the church, their own program - to promote themselves. They would quickly forget the example of Paul from whom they received everything they knew of the Christian faith. How soon Absalom forgot his father's goodness to him.
I've seen many such people - who easily forget the goodness they have received from godly, older brothers. They even forget how they received their ministry. Now they are jealous of their spiritual fathers and seek to exalt themselves in the eyes of their congregations. And God sees all of this.
What was the final end of Absalom? His head got caught in the branches of an oak tree while he was riding on a mule, and he was stabbed to death while he was hanging there. How terrible.
In the Scriptures, we find many stories like that of people who were jealous of men whom God had anointed.
Let us look at Matthew, chapter 27 and verse 18. Pilate was a heathen man who didn't know anything about the Bible or about the true God. But when Jesus stood before him, he could see clearly that Jesus was an innocent man and that "it was because of jealousy, that the Pharisees had delivered Jesus up."
The Pharisees were jealous because the people appreciated Jesus more than them. Annaias and Caiaphas were more than 60 years old, but Jesus was only 33. And the people were admiring and following this young man! The fire of God was on someone half their age. They couldn't bear to see that and they were jealous! And so they decided to get rid of Jesus, and planned to get Him killed! That plan didn't originate with atheists, but with the most religious people of that time - the Pharisees. They too walked the way of Cain!
But the atheist Pilate could see through the whole thing! Even atheists are often able to see through the jealousy that Christians have of each other today?
I want to ask you one more question, brothers and sisters: Are you jealous because God has blessed somebody materially?
I think Job's three preacher friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, were jealous of Job, because, they couldn't stand the fact that a man could be both spiritual and wealthy! If Job had been poor and spiritual, that would have been all right with them. Or if he had been rich, but not spiritual, that too would have been all right with them. But what they couldn't bear was the fact that he was spiritual and also prospering materially at the same time! And they burned with jealousy. They had no doubt, visited Job now and then in the past. But their jealousy was never revealed until calamity hit Job's home.
When they heard that Job's children had died and that his business had suffered a grievous loss, they must have felt a secret joy in their hearts at the news. Even though they said, "Let's go and comfort him", they didn't really come to comfort him. They came to preach to him. Initially, they pretended to share his sorrow and threw mud on their heads and wept as if to show their grief. But then they started preaching to him and kept telling him that there must have been sin in his life for God to judge him in this way.
But what did God think of all this? In Job 42:7, we read that God told them, "My wrath is kindled against the three of you. And I'll destroy you unless Job prays for you." And Job, good man that he was, must have prayed for them saying: "Forgive them Lord, for they didn't know what they were saying." Those three preachers too were walking the way of Cain.
They never said one wrong thing about God. But jealousy burned in their hearts and because of that, despite all their doctrinal correctness, God was ready to destroy them.
So we see how this green thread of jealousy runs all the way through the Bible, in the lives of many religious people. It started with Cain. Job's 3 friends had it. It was found in Korah, in King Saul, in Absalom, in the Pharisees (in Jesus' time) and in the Jews (in the time of Paul). Unfortunately it continues to run in the lives of many believers today.
When God blesses another brother materially can you rejoice in it? Or does his wealth bother you? If it bothers you, it may be a good thing to ask yourself why? It must be because money means so much to you! You consider money to be a big thing! That's why! Otherwise, you'd be happy that your brother is prospering! You'd be happy even if he has a house ten times as big as yours! You'd be happy that he's got a good car (or even if he has five cars), when you've got only one broken-down, old one. You will be perfectly happy, when you see that God is the One Who determines what each person's financial boundaries should be.
I thank God that I discovered that it was God Who drew my financial circle around me. And it was He - and not any man or circumstance - Who determined what the size of that circle should be. For the last 37 years, I have mostly driven a two-wheeled scooter in India - because the price of gas was too much for me to afford to drive a car - and I've been supremely happy! Around me I have seen other preachers driving grand cars - and I have rejoiced. I've not been jealous of them at all. I'm happy - because God determined the size of my financial circle.
When you get into glory, you will discover that money has no value at all. "Godliness with contentment" you will discover, was the greatest thing of all - not godliness with prosperity, but godliness with contentment.
Have you got that contentment? Or are you jealous of someone who has more than you?
Are you happy when someone prospers both spiritually and materially?
Let me ask you my brothers and sisters: Can you truly rejoice when another brother's children are spiritual, even if your own children are carnal? Or do you have some jealousy there and secretly wish that his children will fall in some way?
Perhaps I'm speaking of what dwells in your heart today. If so, then God exposes you in love, like he exposed Cain, and says, "If you intend well, your face will be lifted up! You will also be accepted! My fire will come upon your life too!"
But perhaps you still don't intend well. Maybe you still want to show that you are better than someone else. Perhaps you're still waiting for some calamity to hit that other brother or his family. Like Job's preacher friends, you may act as though you are very happy, but you know you're not! You're jealous. Then you're walking the way of Cain.
Are you jealous because somebody else's ministry prospers, his church prospers and you don't think it should be that way, because he's wrong in this thing and that thing and the other thing. But God obviously doesn't share your opinion about him. What must we do, when we find that God doesn't agree with our opinion of someone else! We must humble ourselves, acknowledge our error and agree with God Let God be true, and every man a liar.
Sister, are you jealous of some other sister for whom everything seems to be going so smoothly? And for you, it has been just pressure upon pressure upon pressure. Do you find yourself hoping that some misfortune will hit that sister?
"In this the children of God and the children of the devil become obvious."
We are called to lay down our lives for our brothers. But O how far most Christians have drifted from the Spirit of Christ and still imagine that God is with them, just because their doctrines are right, or they speak in tongues, or their praise and worship is so melodious.
No, my friends, these are not the marks of godliness.
Jesus never said, "All men will know you are my disciples, when your doctrines are right." He never said, "All men will know you are my disciples, when you break bread every week or when you speak in tongues or when your praise and worship is melodious." No.
He said, "All men will know you are my disciples, WHEN YOU LOVE ONE ANOTHER! That's all!
I want to invite you today to repent. If God has shown you something in your heart of the spirit of Cain or of the spirit of Korah or of the spirit of Absalom.... REPENT!
If you have the spirit of Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar or of the Pharisees....REPENT!
There is forgiveness with God, that He may be feared. God is Almighty. We are nobodies. Let us humble ourselves under His mighty hand.
Let's bow before God in prayer:
"Heavenly Father. Help us. We are a needy people. Our flesh is so corrupt and evil. We don't even realize how easily it leads us to the sin of jealousy, that we cannot rejoice over Thy blessing on another's life. Please help us that we shall see our need and repent. We know that if we intend well, our face, too, can be lifted up, and Thy fire can fall upon our lives too. Save us from spending our days as vagrants and wanderers on this earth. Help us to build fellowship with one another. Lord help us to set things right quickly, lest it be forever too late. Have mercy upon us. We ask in Jesus' name. Amen."