Tearing Down & Building Up

“For we are God’s co-workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.” 1 Corinthians 3:9

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This essay is about “tearing down” and “building up” the people of God – “God’s field” or “God’s building”.

There are plenty of scripture references which speak about exposing error.[1] This essay is NOT questioning IF we should expose error. It is questioning HOW MUCH TIME AND EFFORT we should spend tearing down and exposing error? What should be THE PRIMARY FOCUS of ministry?

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Please bear with me, it is not my intention to draw attention to my ministry. I am about to mention my personal ministry experience solely to help establish a context in which to comment on an observation I’ve made and to discuss a burden I believe the Holy Spirit has placed on my heart.

I spent about fifteen years in itinerant ministry in hundreds of gatherings on four continents. Some were one-time visits, but many developed into on-going relationships – and some of those have been long-term friendships.

During that season, I had the privilege of seeking God regarding what He was doing in the midst of the wider Body of Christ. But as I traveled from place to place, I also would seek Him as to what He would have me minister specifically in each local setting I would come to. I understand that motivation to be associated with what may be called a “prophetic” ministry – in my case, a “prophetic teaching” ministry.

About midway through that fifteen-year season, I became weary of always “playing the heavy”. What do I mean by that? The type of prophetic ministry which is always “laying the axe at the root”, “tearing down strongholds”, bringing correction, etc. It began to weigh heavy on me, and I sought the Lord about it. This phrase was impressed on my heart and mind: “… to root out and to tear down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.” (Jeremiah 1:10) I realized that to “serve the purpose of God in my generation”[2] I would be directed to sometimes “root out and to tear down, to destroy and to overthrow”, and other times to “build and to plant”. But the latter seemed to be very rare. In fact, I could not remember ever going into a local gathering and saying, “You guys are doing a great job; keep up the good work.”

Sometime later, Paul’s words “jumped off the page” for me: “… in accordance with the authority which the Lord gave me for building up and not for tearing down”. (2 Corinthians 13:10) “Yes, Lord. That’s what I long for – to build up, not to always tear down.”

Notwithstanding, the Body of Christ, generally speaking, was immature and in need of correction. But tearing down and fighting error constantly brings little sense of reward or fulfillment. And as it was, after fifteen years, I “burned out” – weary from the constant spiritual battle with every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God and the systems of men which propagate these strongholds.[3]

My condition was much like Elijah’s out in the wilderness under the broom tree. AND HERE’S THE POINT: Like Elijah I missed the fact that the Lord has reserved a remnant. AND – more specifically for me – that He had something different He wanted me to do before removing me from the earth – just as He instructed Elijah to find a replacement in Elisha. (Cf. 1 Kings 19) Of course, things are always more clear in hindsight – the Lord was calling me to FOCUS MUCH MORE ON “BUILDING UP” THE REMNANT, AND MUCH LESS ON “TEARING DOWN” THE SYSTEMS OF MEN.

I  began to seek the Lord as to what that would look like in my life. I “came off the road”, as it were, and spent about twenty years as a teaching elder in various local churches[4], informal house churches, and primarily in small discipleship groups. I still brought some correction when needed, but my focus was much more clearly on “building up ”. In short, my primary focus was, and still is: “laying the Foundation” of Christ in lives of people and groups. Then endeavoring to “build with gold, silver and precious stones” (Cf. 1 Corinthians 3:9-13) – namely, revelation of Christ, relationship with Christ, and reflection of Christ.

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I am writing this because I can see brethren who seem to be stuck playing the same “broken record”[5] I did years ago. Over the past decade or so, I’ve observed ministries which seem to identify as “watch dogs” (they prefer the label “watchmen”) exposing error or criticizing the  “institutional church”. We all need to be “watchmen” on the wall “protecting the city” in a sense. But let’s not forget: That’s an Old Covenant picture. In the New Covenant, all true believers have the anointing which you received from Him remains in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you remain in Him.” (1 John 2:27) In the New Covenant, all true believers have the Spirit of Truth within to “guide us into all truth”. (Cf. John 16:13-15)

Over the fifty years I’ve been walking with the Lord, I’ve strayed off the track a bit now and then, but His Spirit has always led me back on track. Each time was a valuable learning process. In fact, it is during these times of straying and getting back on track that the Holy Spirit sanctifies our heart desires.

The apostle Paul says this “was written for our instruction”[6]: In Numbers 11:18-19 and 31-34 we see that the people of God craved meat rather than God’s provision of manna in the wilderness. The Lord allowed them to have what they craved. And they became sick.

In the same way, we pursue what we want. And the Lord will allow us to have what we want. But what is it that we truly want? God? Or the things of God? Or is it what we think are the things of God? Or is it really just the things we want – but in the name of God? The Lord allows and employs all this as a process of sanctification.

Likewise, people are attracted to certain errors or institutional church praxes because it gives them something they want. God allows this to take place in order to sanctify hearts. In this way, we learn to put things on the alter – like Abraham with Isaac[7] – proving to God, and ourselves, that our hearts are truly centered on Him – not His things, nor what we think are His things.

Furthermore, there were spiritual / religious things I pursued as a younger believer which are no longer emphases in my walk and ministry. I’ve grown spiritually over the years – much like going from teenage to adulthood. The Lord has been a faithful Father. The same is true for all true believers. So, do we all really need a “watch dog” besides?

Doctrinal error and institutional church praxes both OBVIOUSLY “fall short” of the plan and purpose of God. But allow me to make some comments based off of that word “obviously”: At one point I wondered just how much time and effort the apostles devoted to wrestling with error. Yes, it seems Paul had some corrective teaching in probably all of his epistles. But I think it would be much different to say that spotting and addressing error was the focus of his ministry calling. It wasn’t. He was Christ-centered, not error-centered.[8]

Teaching sound doctrine in the area of Ecclesiology is obviously necessary, but there is an increasing number of people whose message is almost exclusively dedicated to exposing the “institutional church”. I don’t see that “specialized” calling in the New Testament.

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Going back again to those years I was playing “the heavy”: The Spirit spoke to my heart through some scripture verses which may also speak to you:

“Do not disturb or awaken my love until she pleases.” (Song of Solomon 8:4)

To truly co-labor with the Lord in “His field” and in “His building”, a servant of the Lord must learn to discern what the Spirit has done and is doing in the life of those to whom he is ministering. This is true because whatever it is we have on our hearts to preach and teach to our hearers, “no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God”.  (1 Corinthians 2:11 ESV) No one can comprehend the word of God unless the Spirit has already prepared the spirit and has already begun to speak to the heart – no matter how “prophetic” the preacher may be. As preachers and teachers, we may think people are immediately receiving “revelation” from us, but the reality is the Spirit has already been at work in their spirits and on their hearts, and now their minds may be receiving more understanding.

 “Moses raised his hand and struck the rock twice with his staff.” (Numbers 20:7-12)

 Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 8 “Take the staff; and you and your brother Aaron assemble the congregation and speak to the rock before their eyes, that it shall yield its water. So you shall bring water for them out of the rock and have the congregation and their livestock drink.” So Moses took the staff from before the Lord, just as He had commanded him; 10 and Moses and Aaron summoned the assembly in front of the rock. And he said to them, “Listen now, you rebels; shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” 11 Then Moses raised his hand and struck the rock twice with his staff; and water came out abundantly, and the congregation and their livestock drank. 12 But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Since you did not trust in Me, to treat Me as holy in the sight of the sons of Israel, for that reason you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them.”

Why was the Lord so displeased with His servant Moses? The Lord told Moses to speak to the rock, but Moses hit the rock – more than once. The Lord saw this as Moses displaying his own “abilities” and “strengths” before the people rather than allowing for God to be glorified in the ministry. This was a very serious issue for the Lord, and Moses paid dearly because of it. Often we preachers and teachers can be more “pathetic” than “prophetic” in our attitudes and approaches towards God’s people – namely, not in the Spirit of Christ. And it seems to me that if we “continue hitting the rock” when we feel people “didn’t get it”, we are essentially displaying that we think it actually is by our “might and power” and not by His Spirit that the field is worked, and the building is built. However, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel, saying, ‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the Lord of armies.” (Zechariah 4:6)

“What is that to you? You follow Me!” (John 21:22)

There is a wonderful passage where Jesus spoke to Peter about his ministry calling:

15 Now when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Tend My lambs.” 16 He said to him again, a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Shepherd My sheep.” 17 He *said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” Peter was hurt because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus *said to him, “Tend My sheep.” John 21:15-17

What is our ministry focus? “Building up” the Remnant? Or “tearing down” the institutional church”?  Jesus called Peter to “tend My lambs”, “shepherd My sheep”, “tend My sheep”. Paul saw his calling as “co-laboring” with the Lord, as He builds His Church.[9] The calling of ministry is to be modeled after Christ: Laying down laying down our lives for the flock of God:

18 Truly, truly I tell you, when you were younger, you used to put on your belt and walk wherever you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will put your belt on you and bring you where you do not want to go.” 19 Now He said this, indicating by what kind of death he would glorify God. And when He had said this, He *said to him, “Follow Me!” (John 21:18-19)

Another thing that needs to be taken to heart is Jesus’ response to Peter, when Peter asked about John’s ministry:

20 Peter turned around and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them—the one who also had leaned back on His chest at the supper and said, “Lord, who is the one who is betraying You?” 21 So Peter, upon seeing him, said to Jesus, “Lord, and what about this man?” 22 Jesus said to him, “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!” (John 21:20-22)

Regarding the ministry of another servant – “What is that to you?” Jesus is perfectly capable of handling His servants. Paul wrote: “Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.” (Romans 14:4) Paul was urging us to trust the Lord handle those who were in error, as He is quite capable of handling His servants – and “angels of light” for that matter. I honestly believe we have much better things  – more productive things – to do than spend or time wrestling with error. I find this sentiment in Paul’s words to the Philippians:

“Finally, believers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable and worthy of respect, whatever is right and confirmed by God’s word, whatever is pure and wholesome, whatever is lovely and brings peace, whatever is admirable and of good repute; if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think continually on these things [center your mind on them, and implant them in your heart].”(Philippians 4:8 AMP)

“Overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21)

There is a quote attributed to D.L. Moody: “The best way to show that a stick is crooked is not to argue about it or to spend time denouncing it, but to lay a straight stick alongside it.” And similarly, another quote attributed to Charles Spurgeon: “You and I will best put down error by preaching truth. If we preach up Christ, the devil goes down. If a crooked stick is before you, you need not explain how crooked it is: lay a straight one down by the side of it, and the work is well done. Preach the truth, and error will stand abashed in its presence.”

Tearing down and fighting error constantly brings little sense of reward. Building up something brings fulfillment. So again, HOW MUCH TIME AND EFFORT should we spend tearing down and exposing error? What should be THE PRIMARY FOCUS of ministry?

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Our commission is to preach the gospel of the kingdom and make disciples of the kingdom.[10] We need to “be about the things of our Father”[11]“engage in business until He comes”[12]“make disciples”[13] – work the field, build the building.[14]

“My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.” John 15:8

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FOOTNOTES

[1] Matthew 7:15, 16:6; Acts 20:28-29; Romans 16:17; 1 Corinthians 4:4-5, 5:11; Philippians 3:2, 18; Ephesians 5:11; 2Thessalonians 3:6, 14; 1 Timothy 1:19-20, 5:1-2, 19-20; 2 Timothy 1:15, 2:17, 3:5, 4:10; 2 John 10.

[2] Acts 13:36

[3] 2 Corinthians 10:3-6 ESV

[4] I use the word “church”. To understand what the Bible means by that word, we all have to study the Scriptures – thoroughly, as well as the origin and meaning of the Greek word “ecclesia”. I have done that, and I use the word “church” to communicate God’s intention for His people.

[5] Kind of an “old school” phrase (from the days of 33 1/3 rpm LP records) used to say that someone keeps saying the same thing over and over again.

[6] Romans 15:4; 1 Corinthians 10:11

[7] Genesis 22:1-19

[8] This is affirmed in 1 Corinthians 3:9-13 and 2 Corinthians 13:10.

[9] 1 Corinthians 3:9-12

[10] Mark 16:15-18; Matthew 28:19-20 (Cf. Matthew 24:14; Matthew 13:52)

[11] Luke 2:49

[12] Luke 19:13

[13] Matthew 28:19-20

[14] 1 Corinthians 3:

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At Christ’s Table – ACTpublications – “Explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words.” 1 Corinthians 2:13

© 2023

W.D. Furioso, Writer ~ Frances Furioso, Editor

At Christ’s Table Ministries ~ ACTpublications ~  https://www.AtChristsTable.org

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Quo Vadis

God is always moving forward in His kingdom plans and purposes. He never moves backward. And for those who love Him, He never stops moving in our lives for His glory. But to continue moving on with God “from glory to glory” requires our living “from faith to faith”. It takes an act of faith