Spirit, Soul and Flesh
Gleanings From Deut. 18 & Neh. 13
Deut. 18 shows us the Levitical priest’s portion in partaking of the
offerings and sacrifices. A point about the New Testament believers all
being priests and Levites has been more than adequately addressed by
many brethren in the past; there is therefore no need to repeat a
familiar teaching. I would like to point out, however, that some N.T.
priests seem to be much more spirit-filled and Christ-like than others;
and there is no denying that they possess greater ministries such as
the “apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers" mentioned
in Eph. 4:11.
When it comes to the New Testament ministers, two concepts plague
many Christians: 1) The thought that only gifted and zealous Christians
get to become workers (N.T. priests), and the rest of us are merely
laymen and spectators, or worse, financial contributors. This concept is
most prevalent in traditional churches and most damaging to the body
of Christ at large. 2) The more advanced thinking considers ALL born-
again believers as workers, and each one has an equally important
portion in the Lord.
While this latter thinking does represent a tremendous revelation of the
Lord’s view of His body and is liberating to the less gifted members,
many Christians have taken it to an extreme. Since, they reason, God
desires all believers to serve Him as priests, and all have been given a
portion with which to serve, then everyone must be the same without
regard to spiritual maturity. They tend to discount the importance of
those who have learned to yield to the Lord’s dealings in the school of
Christ to serve in matured and greater capacities. This is an
unfortunate miss-application of a wonderful scriptural truth.
An equally important portion in the Lord does not translate into an
equal portion in the Lord; a larger portion may be equally important as
a smaller portion, they are non-equal portions nonetheless. The
appendix in my body is as important as my heart, because it is a part of
my body, but it pales in function and usefulness.
For sure, every member in the body of Christ being equally important is
a most precious truth. And we would do well to be reminded of it
In Leviticus 27, all Israelites were given a value according to the
“valuation of persons belonging to the Lord.” The male had a value (50
shekels) which is different from the female (30 shekels); males in their
prime were valued higher than the old men (15 shekels); children had
their value (20 shekels for male, 10 for female), and even infants from
one month old were assigned a value – albeit a small one (5 shekels for
male, 3 for female). We can say, essentially, all Israelites were equally
important because everyone was given a value; but functionally, all
Israelites were not equally useful – some had higher valuations than
others. For New Testament application, we must look past the
superficial letters of the law and discover the deeper spiritual reality,
else we would end up in confusion, hierarchy and error.
The spiritual reality is this: all members of the body of Christ can
function by the life of Christ (the essence) and are equally important,
just as all Israelites from one month old infants to the very old and frail
are important – as far as life is concerned. But only some members of
the body of Christ can function in maturity, therefore are more useful,
just as some received higher valuation than others – so far as the
economic scale of maturity is concerned. Another way to look at it: Life
of Christ at any level is precious (the essence), but only matured life of
Christ produces the greatest impact (the function).
Babies are as precious as they come, but no one would put babies in
elected offices or in charge of municipal police force.
Revelation from the Lord is very precious, but without maturity in life,
revelation can cause extensive damage among God’s people. In order
to avoid the possible scenario where more revelation could lead to more
damage, we must consider seriously the matter of spiritual maturity.
There is an example of misplaced spiritual priority in Neh. 13:5-11.
After the dedication of the wall in Jerusalem, Nehemiah took a short
leave to report back to the king. During his absence, Tobiah was
invited to the house of God and to take up residence in a large chamber
where the grain offering, frankincense, wine and oil…were kept. In
other words, when Tobiah moved in, the portions for the priests got
squeezed out; and the result was the Levites and the singers had to
abandon their ministries to tend to their fields and flocks in order to
Upon returning, Nehemiah discovered the problem and “reprimanded”
the officials, “Why is the house of God forsaken?” The moral of the
story is, when our undealt-with flesh, represented by Tobiah, is given
prominence in the ministry and the worship in the church, genuine
spiritual service and worship (represented by the Levites and the
singers) are put out to pasture, and the testimony is all but
This scenario indeed occurs frequently in many Christian groups. And
we are not talking about immature or revelation-challenged fellowship
groups. This usually happens in fellowship groups that have come out
of tradition and errors and where much light, vision and revelation of
the Lord’s eternal purpose have been given.
Notice, in Nehemiah it happened to the remnant who came out of
Babylon, and after the “great work” of the restoration and dedication of
the wall of Jerusalem was done, not before. Today, dear saints, even
among the remnant who come out of religious Babylon to attempt at a
recovery of the genuine church life, the more light we think we have,
the more prone to err we are. Why is it?
Before we attempt to answer the question, let’s consider: Nehemiah
represents spiritual maturity. When spiritual maturity is in its proper
place, the flesh (Tobiah) is under subjection and the church, the house
of God, is being restored and functioning properly. We notice Eliashib
the priest was “related” to Tobiah and was the one who “invited” Tobiah
back to the house of God.
Here is the key element: the flesh can never of itself return to
prominence; it has to have “inside help.” Then we must understand the
important role of Eliashib, because he was the inside help who invited
Tobiah back. What does he represent? Eliashib represents the soul. A
“relative” is someone who is a close kin. Throughout the Old
Testament, the word for “relative” is actually the word for “brother” – a
word denoting intimacy. The soul is always intimately aligned with the
flesh. When the flesh is wounded, the soul always rises up to protest,
defend, nurture and seek revenge. Without the inside help of Eliashib
(the soul), Tobiah (the flesh) can never gain prominence.
One of the serious problems among those who came out of the
traditional churches is the strong misconception to make everyone
equal without regard for spiritual maturity, and in doing so the
“Levitical priests” are driven out to pasture. Whenever there is a
vacuum of spiritual maturity, the soul will always step up and mimic the
role of the spirit, and Tobiah, the flesh, immediately comes into
prominence! Never fails.
But spiritual maturity should not be misconstrued as to imply hierarchy
in the church.
In every household, there is the need of a “head of household” to
demonstrate maturity and exercise authority. Likewise, in God’s
household, there is also the need for some spiritually matured brothers
to maintain the level of spirituality and to uphold the headship of
Without a head of household, a secular family loses all semblances of
orderliness and harmony and creates all sorts of social ills. Without
spiritually matured brothers in the church, everyone does what’s right in
his/her own eyes, and the church plunges into utter chaos and ruin.
Deut. 18 answers the question why some workers seem to have greater
portions in their ministry when all believers are supposed to be
workers. Verse 6 says, “Now if a Levite comes from any of your gates
throughout Israel where he resides, and comes with all the desire of his
soul to the place where the Lord chooses.” In this verse we see an
important phrase: “with all the desire of his soul.” One of our biggest
battles from day to day is the battle of the soul.
From day one, Eve was tempted by an unruly desire of her soul. The
soulish desire which is in rebellion to God’s word results in men’s fall.
To live a life in spirit, our soul has to be brought under subjection.
Jesus said, “He who wishes to save his soul life [literal] shall lose it, he
who loses his soul life [lit.] for My sake shall save it” (Luk. 9:24). This
process the Hebrew writer calls “the saving of the soul” (Heb. 10:39)
lasts our entire lifetime.
Now we have come to the key to this very important chapter: “with all
the desire of his soul” (Deut. 18:6). Here it denotes a normal Christian
worker whose soul life has been tamed, conquered, put in its subjective
role, and his soul is fully intertwined with God’s desire. He desires
what God desires; his mind is God’s mind; his emotion is God’s
emotion. Certainly, no one is born with a desire that is in line with God’
s desire. No one can exercise his will power to follow God’s desire. It
takes much dealings and trainings from the Lord. Notice Eliashib had to
be “reprimanded” by Nehemiah. Our wild and unruly soul must also
learn to accept the positive reprimands from the Holy Spirit, sometimes
even through the spiritually matured “Nehemiahs” of the assembly.
Paul told Timothy, “All Scripture is God-breathed, and is profitable for
teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.” And
in Heb. 4:12, the word of God is “living and operative, and sharper than
any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and
spirit….” Without a doubt, there is an Eliashib in ALL of us. Our soul is
intimately aligned with our flesh; it does not see the flesh as evil but
instead nurtures it and brings it into prominence. How we need to hear
a dividing word from the Holy Spirit so that our soul can be brought
under the ruling of the spirit!
In verse 8 we have an additional confirmation about laying down our
soul life: “They shall eat equal portions, except what they receive from
the sale of their fathers’ estates.” As mentioned, essentially, we are
all “equal” in life. We have all been given a “like precious faith”; we
have all received the same divine life; we have all received the Holy
Spirit. We are lacking nothing – essentially. But, here in verse 8, we
see some Levites who received extra portions “from the sale of their
fathers’ estates.” What does that mean? C.A. Coates explains that
these are the ones who “sacrificed something” that they were entitled
to, therefore are amply rewarded.
The son rightfully inherits the father’s estates, but when the son lets
go of (“sale”) what’s rightfully his, a greater portion is awarded back to
him. Yes, indeed. True spirituality is not measured by how much we
have gained from what is rightfully ours, but by what we let go of what
we are rightfully entitled to. It comes right back to the laying down of
our soul life, doesn’t it?
Only when we have been dealt with are we willing to “lose our soul
life,” and in doing so, we shall “gain our soul life.” In greatly multiplied
portions, I might add.
The Closed Door
Gateway to Spiritual Fullness