- 2Corinthians 6: 14 – 7: 1
Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” Therefore “Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.” Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.
- Isaiah 58: 13, 14
‘If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on My holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy day of the Lord honourable, and shall honour Him, not doing your own ways, nor finding your own pleasure, nor speaking your own words, then you shall delight yourself in the Lord; and I will cause you to ride on the high hills of the earth, and feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father. The mouth of the Lord has spoken’.
I want to focus on the verse: ‘let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.’
We need to learn how to allow God to bless the spiritual labour of our hands, our ministry. It is written: ‘The blessing of the Lord makes one rich, and He adds no sorrow with it’ (Proverbs 10: 22). Yet, we are unable to do a ministry that has the blessing of the Lord because we do not know how to receive the blessing of the Lord on the ministry.
There are several principles in this respect, but today I want to talk about one of these principles and that is: perfecting holiness in the fear of God.
God puts His hands on holy hands. God’s holy Hands cannot draw near unclean hands. Therefore, the Psalms numerously refer to ‘he who has clean hands and a pure heart’ (Psalm 24: 4); and also: ‘I will wash my hands in innocence; so I will go about Your altar, O Lord’ (Psalm 26: 6).
The hands are the channel of giving. In the spirit, our hands are seen as unclean and unholy; therefore, God’s hand is hindered and is not able to come close to our hands, be placed over them and bless the labour of our hands.
This does not mean that we are required to have a level of holiness which is only attainable by those who are totally set apart for prayer. Holiness has different infinite levels. Yet, God requests from each person the level of holiness which is in accordance to his spiritual stature and measure of grace.
There are two different modes of sanctification: the ‘passive sanctification’ which means ‘avoiding evil and iniquities’; and the ‘active sanctification’ which means reaching a deep level of sanctification which is acquired as a result of a life set apart for prayer.
At this spiritual level, we are not required to reach the level of deep sanctification which is acquired as a result of a life set apart for prayer, but we are required to acquire the ‘passive sanctification’ which means avoiding evil and iniquities.
We may think that practically we do not commit any evil. But in fact, I want to refer here to the ‘passions and desires of the soul’.
Some people commit evil called ‘iniquity’ which means intentional sin. But this is not what I am referring to because you are all ministers of God and are careful and watchful in avoiding this as much as possible.
I am actually referring to the soul and its passions that darken the whole being. They darken the mind and feelings and defile the spiritual hands; and as a result, the blessing of God is hindered.
This is the level of sanctification which is required from us at this stage. We are required to crucify the passions of the soul and resist the desires and pleasures of the soul because these desires of the soul hinder the process of sanctification and becoming holy; and hence hinder the blessing of the Lord.
I want to talk about 3 aspects of the sanctification of the soul:
- My relationship with others
- My relationship with myself
- My relationship with my ministry
In each of these aspects, we often behave contrary to what we are supposed to do. As a result, the process of sanctification gets severely hindered.
Sanctification is hindered not because we do evil and iniquities but rather because the soul deceives us by following her passions and desires, whether in a direct or an indirect way. As a result, the process of sanctification is hindered and the drawing near of God’s Hand and blessing are hindered. Consequently, our ministry becomes barren, consuming a lot of energy but bearing little or no fruits.
Let us now talk about each of these 3 aspects:
1. My relationship with others
In the previous years, we experienced love for each other; we tasted the blessing of being a family; and we experienced ministering together.
However, at the moment we are at a spiritual point where we need to learn to close the city of the soul so that it would become an enclosed holy city for the Bridegroom.
One of the common features of our generation is that it is a soulish generation: relationships are soulish; conduct is soulish; and the spirit is constrained –as Apostle Jude says, they are: ‘sensual persons, not having the Spirit’ (Jude 1: 19).
We are at a point where we need to learn that our relationships with each other as a spiritual family should be a fellowship in the spirit and not soulish relationships or soulish reactions.
To clarify, in the previous years, in our dealings with each other, we got close to one another; there was love in the relationship; and we all experienced the warmth of being a family.
However, as we were drawing closer to each other, something happened which we need to pay attention to. As we were drawing closer to each other and tasting this special fellowship, not only were our spirits getting closer to one another, but also our souls entered into each other’s souls. I drew so close to my brother to the extent that his soul entered into my soul and I entered into his soul. This is because I love my brother and I need him, yet the city of my soul is without walls. This happened because we did not learn an important spiritual principle related to the city of the soul.
In fact, the human soul is like a city which should have walls. It is the Jerusalem of the days of Nehemiah and it is also the inner Jerusalem. Therefore, exactly as Nehemiah built the fallen walls of Jerusalem, every one of us should build the walls of his spiritual life.
Because we did not know or understand this principle, the walls of our inner city are not built and we have gaps which we did not learn to close. As a result, in our relationships, we allowed people to enter into the city of the soul.
However, as we were allowing people in our city of the soul, we allowed each one to enter to a certain extent depending on how much we like that person. The person that I like more; I allow him/her in; while the people that I do not like, I did not allow them to enter. Therefore, a variation or a difference in the level of closeness in the relationships existed.
In general and in our totality, we all love each other and we have spiritual love; but there are differences in the level of closeness. There may be someone that I do not only love in the spirit, but his soul has also entered into my soul because I liked him and felt close to him and I also entered into his soul; while with another person to whom I am not drawn, the level varied.
Actually, this should not be the case with believers and ministers of the Lord who are keen on their sanctification so that the blessing of the Lord may come on their lives and their ministries. This should not be the case with people upon whom God looks and desires to establish them, as was of old, as His holy people, the Church of Christ. In the epistles of Paul we clearly read that the people of God, the Church, should be characterised with this feature of ‘holiness’. As explained earlier, holiness is not a farfetched thing as we may think nor does it belong to people totally dedicated to prayer, but it simply means being watchful and avoiding evil and sin.
This kind of relationships which we had amongst us –where there was a mixture of the closeness of the spirits but at the same time some people entering, encroaching or coming in touch with the field of one another’s soul in various degrees –resulted in some kind of hidden sectarianism. Sectarianism was not outward or apparent because we all received the same teaching and we were all in the same ministry; hence, there were no differences in ideologies. Yet, at the same time, it became clear that people were forming small groups, made of those closer to each other, within the bigger group of ministers.
We read about the River of the Holy Spirit whose ‘streams shall make glad the city of God’ (Psalm 46: 4). In order for this river to flow in the city of God, making it glad and holy and bringing joy wherever it goes, we should be moving in our ministry not as a group of ministers, but as a city joined together: ‘Jerusalem that is built as a city that is joined together’ (Psalm 122: 3). The river of life should flow in this city, making it a place of the presence of God, bringing joy and overflowing with love. If this was the case, it would suffice that this city would move from place to place and it would bear fruits without the need for anyone to say anything.
If there were 7 or 8 people living as such, the Hand of the Lord would bless the ministry and the ministry would be fruitful because this is the true picture of the ministry of the New Testament. Apostle Paul refers to it as the ministry of the Spirit, the ministry of righteousness, the ministry of glory, which the Holy Spirit does (2Corinthians 3: 8, 9). Yet, He can never draw near unless we are a city joined together.
We may say: ‘but I am not able to be as open with person X in the same way as I am with person Y’. The reason for this is that our souls have entered into each other’s souls.
Do you know what does this mean?
Do you know why the city of the soul should be enclosed, as we read in the book of Song of Songs 4: 12?
Do you know why it should have walls and doors, as we read in the book of Nehemiah (Nehemiah 3)?
Do you know why the city of the soul should be as such?
It is because Jesus alone should be in it. It is the city of the Great King (Psalm 48:2; Matthew 5:35).
My inner Jerusalem should be an enclosed city, the city of the Great King. It belongs to Jesus alone. If anyone enters into this city, he takes part of the place of Jesus; and hence the place of the Lord shrinks. There will be a place for that person and a place for such and such a problem. The walls are not built and the gaps are not closed. As a result, we suffer from the well-known spiritual problem where at times our spiritual desires are intense and overflowing and at other times our human passions are pulling us downwards; at times, I am hovering upwards and at other times, I am descending down below. The reason behind this is that the city of our soul is not enclosed and it is not Jesus alone who is in it: there is Jesus in addition to the things that my passions have allowed in.
Has anyone experienced this in the early years of our spiritual walk with Christ? No. This is true because it was the stage of spiritual childhood where the grace of God carries the new believer through. But, after this stage, it is very important that this city would be closed and enclosed. Each one should start to be vigilant and watchful over his city and bring out of it what has entered in; so that this city would belong to Christ alone and so that Christ would extend in it and be formed in it. As a result, there will be life, rest, grace, blessing and His hand will be stretched.
In our relationships, we need to be watchful and keep the right distance; however, we should not be closed up or have barriers between us. There is a difference between keeping the right distance and being closed up or isolated. In other words, we should deal with each other in the love of the spirit, but the city of the soul should remain enclosed. We should not seek the passions of the soul, but seek the relation in spirit with a crucified soul. There isn’t any verse in the bible which indicates that my brother or sister should love me, but there are numerous verses which indicate that I should love my brothers and sisters. However, what happens with us is quite the opposite. We get hurt from a brother or a sister because of something they did to us or something that we expected them to do but they didn’t do it. These wrong expectations are actually the language of the fallen soul.
The spirit, being the breath of God, learns from God to give and not to take; while the fallen soul has the selfishness of death; the soul wants to take and not to give. The spirit is of God and God is love, sacrificial love. Therefore, the spirit in us desires to give not to take, as it is written: ‘it is more blessed to give than to receive’ (Acts 20: 35). Yet, the soul in us desires to take not to give.
When the soul is sanctified, it becomes in harmony with the spirit and so it would start to give –like the spirit. As a result of the fall, the soul and the spirit became disconnected. Yet, through redemption, the spirit would once again dominate the soul and the soul would acquire the features of the spirit.
Therefore, we need to learn to close the city of our souls and get out of it what we have allowed to enter in. I need to bring out the people who have entered into the city of my soul without requesting or expecting anything of them. I should not expect anything from them, but I should rather constantly remind myself that I should offer love without expecting anything in return. If my brothers and sister see that I am always taking the position of the giver, this giving would stir the spirit of giving in them. When one feels immersed in love, he feels compelled to give.
The love of the spirit produces in others spiritual love; while, the soulish love produces in others scarcity of love. If I offer soulish love, the soul of the other person would want to take and possess until I find myself totally dominated by others. If I offer the love of the spirit, the other person would give the love of the spirit as well. As a result, the love of the spirit will flow among us, overflowing from one to the other.
This is the mystery of the true fellowship and community life according to Saint Pachomius, the founder of cenobitic (communal) monasticism.
In such a way, we would be reflecting upon one another the love of the spirit. I will love without expecting anything in return; and I would continue to love again and again. The love of the spirit in me would awake the spirit of the other and so he starts to give as well. As a result I will be offering love and receiving love; and all would be in the spirit, spiritual love. Hence, the atmosphere of spiritual love would flow in our midst; the river of love would flow in us; everything in us would change; and our life would be sanctified.
My city would be sanctified; Christ would reign in it; I will always be giving to my brothers and sisters and not expecting anything. When I give, I will be given; and so the giving of the spirit and the love of the spirit will start to flow among us, from one to the other.
As a result, the unity of the spirit would be created amongst us.
This is the spiritual fellowship.
Therefore, the sanctification of the city of the soul is a very important matter.
2.My relationship with myself
The fallen soul is full of passions and that is why Apostle Paul speaks about crucifying the flesh with its passions and desires (Galatians 5: 24). The lusts are related to the flesh; and the passions are related to the soul.
We often think that the things that need to be crucified are the world, the lusts, and sin, the big or major things, and it is of course true that these things need to be crucified; yet we rarely discern that there are also the ‘passions of the soul’ and these need to be crucified as well.
The fallen soul, which is our ego, has passions like: laziness and expectations from others to the extent that I may make others feel blamed or guilty if they do not fulfil my expectations. The fallen soul has endless expectations and requests. All these things are the language of the fallen soul.
The fallen soul also causes me to be lax and undisciplined: my time is wasted; I cannot focus; my prayer is on and off where sometimes I can pray and at other times I am not able to pray at all.
This happens because my fallen soul hooks me; once through laziness, another time with deceits, a third time I get caught up in unnecessary issues, and so on. All these are the passions of the soul. These passions need to be crucified.
We need to learn some primary principles from the life of the early fathers in this context.
We should keep our daily spiritual diligence and our daily tasks (the physical daily work and the Kingdom ministry) constantly before our eyes; viewing each day as an entity or unit which we will give account of.
We need to maintain the balance by reviewing ourselves as to whether or not we have given each of these aspects (daily spiritual prayers, our work, our ministry) their due time.
A balanced life is something that is so lacking in our generation. This generation suffers from living a life that lacks discipline and organisation. For example, one may find that he was unable to pray or minister for a week because there were many problems this week; and so, he was unable to pray or do anything.
What actually allows the enemy to mess things up in my life is that I am lacking the proper balance within me. The things that mess up my daily program are the passions of my fallen soul and my desires. As a result, my spiritual discipline starts to be disturbed. If the enemy sees that my inner steadfastness or resilience is weakening on a certain day, he gets the right to mess up this day for me. This is what Apostle Paul refers to as ‘the evil day’. Therefore, the apostle writes: ‘take up the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day’ (Ephesians 6: 13).
A day can start in a way where everything seems tense and messed up. The reason behind this is that I was not able to stand as a soldier in spirit and put on the spiritual armour.
Part of our Christian calling is to be soldiers for the God of hosts. Apostle Paul talks about this calling of being a soldier on various occasions in his epistles. He mentions it to the Church of Ephesus, the most advanced Church. He also mentions it to his disciple, Timothy, saying: ‘you therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier’ (2Timothy 2: 3, 4).
We have a lot of entanglements because deep within us we are not enlisted as soldiers; we do not have this inner discipline and diligence.
It is a very simple matter, a simple equation. If I am enlisted and disciplined deep within me, the entanglements end.
One of the things that drain our physical and spiritual energy is the entanglements. They leave the person with no fruits, exhausted, and drained. The reason is that we are not enlisted; we are not being diligent in our spiritual life.
One of the features of the spiritual life in the New Testament is to be a soldier. This is why God is called ‘the Lord of hosts’ in both Testaments.
3.My relationship with my ministry
The fallen soul has passions and desires. The passions of the soul operate between me and myself; while, the desires of the soul operate between me and others, affecting my relationships with others.
When the soul is not sanctified, it is like an abstract thing that has no rules; it is jelly like and so it takes any shape or form. It can; therefore, be easily distracted, dispersed and lose direction. This reflects in our ministry causing one, for example, to neglect his responsibilities and look at or probe into the responsibilities of others.
Why does this happen? It is because of the fallen soul.
However, if the soul is sanctified, it will be ‘spiritually chaste’. If it is chaste, it will not look upon the ministry or the affairs of others.
One should always tell himself that it is not his right to look into someone else’s ministry or probe into any other responsibility which is not his. One should always ask himself where the boundaries of his responsibilities are and abide by them.
We have become a generation of ministers who can judge well; we evaluate well, but bear no fruits. Our eyes have become open unto everything apart from one’s own life, responsibilities, and ministry. This is the fallen soul; the passions of the soul; the soul that desires to look, talk, live without discipline, get distracted, and go up and down.
Yet, if the soul is sanctified and one is vigilant on its continuous sanctification, one should always remind himself whether what he is thinking of is related to him or to his brothers and sisters. If it is related to the brothers and sisters, then, one has no right to even think of it.
We may say that there are things related to the field of ministry in general. If this is the case, then one should first ask himself if he has done all what is asked of him before wanting to tell others what needs to be done. In the meantime, if there is something that needs to be done in the general field, it should be said with great humility and chastity. Also, as one is saying this thing, one should first of all include his own shortcomings and mention that the general hindrance is a reflection of a hindrance amongst all of us, but it is also surely the result of his own personal hindrance and shortcomings (Luke 6: 43).
Who does the ministry? We all do it; each one of us; each one according to his measure of grace or his spiritual rank –as the early fathers call it. This means that the older or the more advanced in the spirit have multiplied responsibility; whereas the newer and the beginners have less responsibility. Each one has a responsibility according to the measure of grace. Yet, if there is a hindrance amongst us, this is the result of the totality of the labour of our hands together. Ministry is not carried out by an individual; it is the responsibility of all the ministers together. However, our fallen souls lack the true chastity and lack the ‘fear of God’ –according to the biblical term.
When one grows in the spirit, the spirit of this person starts to acquire some spiritual sensitivity and discernment; and so, one starts to sense the spiritual state of others. Abba Shenouda, the Archimandrite, (4th/5th century) is a great example of the early fathers who had this spiritual sense and had an open spiritual eye. He used to sit on a rock outside his cell and God would show him everything happening in the world and all the sins of people in the world. He was able to sense in the spirit and see in the spirit at various dimensions. He had another sense in addition to the normal senses which is called the ‘spiritual sense’.
When one desires to live a faithful spiritual life, purity and sweetness flow. We may not reach this spiritual level which the saints attained; but at least we can live according to the ‘spiritual sense’, having some spiritual sensitivity and discernment.
In Ephesians 4: 19, Apostle Paul writes about the heathen people saying that they have ‘lost all sensitivity’ and that ‘they are darkened in their understanding’.
‘So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed’ (Ephesians 4: 17 – 19).
We are called to live in the spirit, according to the spiritual sense and sensitivity in order to be true Christian believers of the New Testament.
As I was reading the early fathers writings, there was something that has always touched my spirit, but I was not able to understand it fully. I often read in their biographies that a brother would go to the spiritual father and ask him: ‘father, how can I acquire the fear of God?’
We may wonder why the fear of God was an issue for them and they asked about a lot; while, we feel that we do not have any problem in this matter! Why they were so keen on acquiring the fear of God and kept asking about it? What about us; do we have the fear of God in us?
The fear of God actually comes to one’s spirit when one draws closer to God in true fellowship.
Why is the fear of God faint or missing in our lives?
This is because a lot of our worship of God is mental and soulish; and our spirits are not drawing near Him in true fellowship.
Isaiah, the prophet, says: ‘Enter into the rock, and hide in the dust, from the terror of the Lord and the glory of His majesty’ (Isaiah 2: 10).
How often do we sense the terror of the Lord or have this sense of great awe and reverence towards God?
What happened with Moses when he asked to see God?
God told him that He will put him in the cleft of a rock and cover him and pass by and he will see God’s back.
But He said, “You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live.” And the Lord said, “Here is a place by Me, and you shall stand on the rock. So it shall be, while My glory passes by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock, and will cover you with My hand while I pass by. Then I will take away My hand, and you shall see My back; but My face shall not be seen’ (Exodus 33: 20 – 23).
This was said to Moses who conversed with God!
The fear of God should enter into the heart. The Psalmist says: ‘the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever’ (Psalm 19: 9). When the fear of God comes in the spirit of a person, it purifies him, bringing out the foul odour of the fallen nature and granting him a sweet aroma because the fear of God is pure.
It was said about Pope Cyril the sixth of Alexandria (1959-1971) that he had certain reverence. Why is that? It is because he was constantly in the presence of God and the fear of God filled him; and so the holy terror of the Lord was upon him; it was apparent in his face. His words and decisions, to his congregation or to the leaders in responsibility, had great authority because of this holy terror of the Lord.
This word is repeated in the Bible regarding several men of God. When Jacob was speaking to Laban, he said: ‘unless the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, had been with me, surely now you would have sent me away empty-handed. God has seen my affliction and the labour of my hands, and rebuked you last night’.
Why are we not granted this fear/terror/awe?
It is because we have lost the ‘spiritual chastity’; our eyes have become daring, open, unchaste and not simple; they have become adulterous open eyes that look into everything; they are not chaste and are not covered with a veil as is said about the bride in the Song of Songs: ‘You have dove’s eyes behind your veil’ (Song of Songs 4: 1; 5:12). They are not ‘washed with milk’ or pure; they do not look only into one’s own ministry and put the blame on oneself, but rather put the blame on others.
As a result we conflict together and hinder the ministry.
Is this the work of God upon which we want His blessing to come?
Where are the chaste, meek, and broken hearts that sacrifice and pour out themselves for God’s sake?
Believe me, whoever would do this would be the first one to reap the fruit of what he does, both on the physical and spiritual level. He will receive a blessing over his human and spiritual life.
Glory be to God forever
 This refers to the spiritual level of a certain group of believers at the time of delivering this message.