By Aixi, Malaysia
When I was 12, I began believing in theand became a Christian. After I began believing, I actively and persistently participated in Sunday worship and Bible study groups. At Bible study meetings, we often discussed 2 Timothy 4:7–8, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: From now on there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness.” We thought that, as Christians, we should imitate Paul and strive to run around and do works, because the Lord would bestow crowns of righteousness upon us. Our pastor also often encouraged us by saying the kingdom of heaven is entered through effort, and as long as we make efforts to pursue and diligently do the Lord’s work, when the Lord returns, He would us up to the kingdom of heaven. These teachings became the cornerstone of my belief in God, and I swore to myself that I would do all in my power to participate in church service work so that I could accrue enough “value” to satisfy God, so that when He came, I could be raptured up into the kingdom of heaven.
In university, my pastor spoke about fostering more talent in the church, so that the church could expand everywhere. When I saw the church needed people to participate and serve, I thought, “If I can resolutely work for the Lord, labor, and expend, God will undoubtedly bless me, and I can accrue awards for myself in heaven.” Even though I was very busy with my course work during that period, each week, I spent all of my time outside of class doing service work, leading study groups, visiting and supporting my brothers and sisters, as well as planning church activities, taking part in church training, and so on. Wherever the church needed my service, I was sure to be found. Even though I was so busy I scarcely found time to breathe between church service and my classes, when I thought of how my labor and works would be traded for a good future and the Lord’s blessings, I felt like all my sacrifices were worth it.
But, gradually, I began to become aware that the church leaders often had disputes over the offerings, that they were split into factions over interests, and that the church workers fought amongst themselves over status. I also often lived in sin, and I was very enthusiastic toward the brothers and sisters who cared for and helped me, but when brothers and sisters unfamiliar to me needed me to care for and help them, I didn’t want to lovingly come to their aid. I also deliberately said and did things to become the leader of a study group, thereby struggling for reputation and interest against my co-workers. All these circumstances made me very confused. The church leaders and workers, including myself, could labor without complaint, as well as expend and sacrifice a great deal, in service to the Lord. Why was it that even though the Lord Jesus taught us to be tolerant, patient, and love others as we love ourselves, we couldn’t do it?
By chance, one of my sisters from university invited me and another brother to participate in an online Bible study group. At one meeting, we examined these verses of scripture, “Not every one that said to Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that does the will of My Father which is in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name? and in Your name have cast out devils? and in Your name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess to them, I never knew you: depart from Me, you that work iniquity” (Matthew 7:21–23). My brother said, “These people mentioned in the Scripture who prophesy and work in the Lord’s name, according to most people’s notions, are the people who expend and sacrifice the most for the Lord. They should be the people the Lord approves of most, and are assured a place in the kingdom of heaven. But why does the Lord say He does not approve of them, and instead condemn them for their sins?”
After reading these verses and hearing my brother’s question, I thought: We talked about this in our Bible study group a year ago. At the time, a brother asked the same question. Why does the Lord Jesus say these people who labored and worked can’t enter the kingdom of heaven? And why does that seem to conflict with our belief that we are called righteous because we believe, and that we can enter the kingdom of heaven through labor and work? Even though we discussed these questions, we didn’t find any resolution to these mysteries. Later, I sought answers with a friend in the church who was very familiar with, Mr. Huang, but he wasn’t able to explain the reasons either, and he maintained his belief that diligent labor and work allows us to enter the kingdom of heaven. That day, this brother raised the same question, which made me curious. I wanted to hear how my brother would fellowship.
My brother said, “Many people read that Paul said, ‘I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: From now on there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness’ (2 Timothy 4:7–8), and make this their own motto. They pursue labor, work, suffering, and expending, and they believe if they persist in these things, they will be raptured up to the kingdom of heaven by the Lord. But, is this in accord with? Did the Lord Jesus say that labor and work alone are enough to enter the kingdom of heaven and be rewarded? God controls who enters the kingdom of heaven, so we should base our understanding of what kind of people can enter on the Lord’s words, not our own notions and imaginations. The Lord Jesus said, ‘Not every one that said to Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that does the will of My Father which is in heaven’ (Matthew 7:21). ‘And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength’ (Mark 12:30). The Lord very clearly says that only those who do the Father’s will can enter the kingdom of heaven, that the people who enter the kingdom of heaven are those who do God’s will, love God with all their hearts, souls, and minds, and those who obey God. He does not say those who labor and work will enter the kingdom of heaven. The chief priests, scribes, and Pharisees in the Age of Law served barefoot in the temple, and even traveled to the far corners of the earth to preach the gospel. From the outside, they appeared to expend, forsake, and bear suffering and complaint for God, but when the Lord Jesus came to work, to safeguard their own positions and incomes, they fabricated all kinds of rumors, frantically resisted and condemned the Lord Jesus, and stopped the ordinary believers in Judaism from turning to the Lord Jesus. They believed in God but did not know God, and were even capable of resisting and condemning God. No matter how much work they did, God would never allow such people to enter His kingdom.
“I recall how at our church, even though many people were able to forsake everything for the Lord’s work, do it heedless of wind or rain, and even lay down their lives to serve the Lord, it was undeniable that we often couldn’t keep the Lord’s teachings. Our work and expending often carried our own ambitions and desires, and were not at all done purely out of love for the Lord or to satisfy Him. At times, in their service of God, some people stole the offerings given by our brothers and sisters to God, keeping them for themselves to supplement their material lives. Other people labored and worked to exchange these for rewards from the Lord, not out of consideration for God or to repay God’s love. Some people often exalted and testified themselves in their work and preaching, rather than exalting and testifying the Lord, so believers worshiped and looked up to them, and had no place in their hearts for God, but had a place for them. Some people passionately expended to gain leadership positions or gain prestige among the believers. Some people, even as they labored and worked, also struggled for fame and fortune, ostracized those with different opinions, formed factions and cliques, and tried to set up their own kingdoms…. Could people like that possibly do God’s will? Were they really loving and satisfying the Lord? Such people could never do God’s will, and even less could they enter the. We always thought labor and work would allow us to enter the kingdom of heaven, but that was entirely based on our own notions and imaginations.”
After I heard my brother’s fellowship, several scenes flashed through my mind: the church leaders and workers fighting over their reputations and their interests, my unwillingness to help brothers and sisters in need who I didn’t know, the things I said, did, and showed off to become a study group leader and how I fought my co-workers for my reputation and interests…. We truly were living in sin, and not people who were doing God’s will!
The next day, I couldn’t stop thinking about my brother’s fellowship. I turned his words over in my mind, thinking, His fellowship was indeed in accordance with the Lord’s words. While we labored, worked, and expended, we also fought for our own reputation, interests, and status, squabbled amongst ourselves over benefits, lied and deceived each other, and often sinned and resisted the Lord. Our deeds weren’t at all doing the Father’s will. The Lord said, “But he that does the will of My Father which is in heaven.” How could people who sacrificed and expended the way we did possibly enter the kingdom of God? But on the other hand, even though many of the intentions behind our work and expending were wrong, and we could still sin and resist God, our pastor often said that the Lord had forgiven our sins, and when He came, we would be raptured directly into the kingdom of heaven. What was going on here? I was very confused. I looked forward to the next meeting, when I could fully discuss these questions with my brother.