Watchman Nee

B. Childress
Nov 10 2013

It is crucial for a worker of the Lord to be able to know men.  When a person comes to us, we have to know his spiritual
condition.  We have to know what kind of person he was and what he has now become.  We have to know what he is
saying with his mouth and what he is really saying in his heart, and what is the difference between the two.  We have to
know what he is trying to hide from us.  We have to know his outstanding characteristics, whether he is stubborn or
humble, and whether his humility is real or artificial.  The effectiveness of our work very much depends on our ability to
discern the spiritual condition of others.  If the Spirit of God shows our spirit the condition of those who come to us, we
will be able to give them a suitable word.

Whenever men came to the Lord in the Gospels, He spoke a suitable word to them.  This is amazing!  The Lord did not
speak to the Samaritan woman about the truth of regeneration.  Neither did He speak to Nicodemus about the living
water.  The word on regeneration was for Nicodemus, and the word on the living water was for the Samaritan woman.  
How fitting!  To those who had never followed Him, He issued a calling.  To those who wanted to follow Him, He spoke of
bearing the cross.  To those who volunteered, He spoke of counting the cost.  To those who were hesitant to follow, He
spoke of letting the dead bury the dead.  The Lord has a suitable word for everyone, because He knows everyone.  
Whether a person comes to the Lord with a seeking heart or a prying attitude, our Lord knows him.  This is the reason
His word is forever effective and suitable.  Our Lord is far ahead of us in dealing with men.  We are following Him only
from a distance.  Although we are following at a distance, we still have to follow; the direction has to be the same.  May
the Lord be merciful to us so that we may learn to know men as He does.

If we place a soul in the hand of a brother who has no discernment of men, he will not know how to deal with him.  He will
only speak according to his subjectivity.  If he has a certain feeling on a certain day, he will speak of this feeling to
whomever he meets.  If he has a favorite subject, he will speak to everyone about that subject.  How can such a person
do an effective work?  No doctor can prescribe only one kind of medicine to all of his patients.  Unfortunately, some
servants of God have only one prescription.  They do not understand others’ illnesses, yet they try to heal them.  They
do not know the problem. They do not know the complexity of men, and they have never learned to know the spiritual
condition of others.  Nevertheless, they act as if they have a ready treatment for everyone.  This is indeed foolish.  We
cannot expect to heal every spiritual sickness with just one spiritual prescription.  This is absolutely impossible.

We should not think that those who are slow in feeling will have a difficult time discerning men, but that those who are
sharp in mind will have an easy time discerning men.  Neither slowness in feeling nor sharpness of mind have anything
to do with discerning men.  We cannot discern men with our mind or our feelings.  No matter how sharp our mind is, we
cannot bring the hidden things in man to light, nor can we touch the depth of man’s condition.

When a worker contacts a man, the first and most basic thing for him to do is to learn what this person’s real need is
before God.  Sometimes even the person’s own answer is unreliable.  When he says that he has a headache, does he
really mean that only his head hurts?  Perhaps the headache is merely a symptom; his sickness may not be in the head.  
Or he may say that he feels feverish, but this does not necessarily mean that he has a temperature.  He can say many
things, but the things he says may not be that reliable.  Very few patients really know what is wrong with them.  They do
not know the kind of sickness they have.  They need us to diagnose them and tell them of their need.  If we want them to
tell us what is wrong with them, they may not be able to tell us the right thing.  Only those who have studied medicine,
that is, those who are trained in discerning spiritual problems, can tell them what they need.

When we are making a diagnosis, we must know what we are speaking of.  We cannot impose a diagnosis upon others.  
A subjective person will insist that others are sick with what he imagines the illness is; he will impose an illness upon
others.  When a person is sick or in difficulty, he cannot identify his problem.  We have to point it out to him.  Yet we
should not insist on our diagnosis in a subjective way.  

Whether or not we can render help to the brothers and sisters depends on whether we can identify their problems and
give them the right prescription.  If our diagnosis is correct, we will help them.  Sometimes we may find out that their
problem is beyond our ability, but at least a course of action is clear.  Some spiritual conditions are within our ability to
help, while others are beyond our ability to help.  We should not be so foolish as to assume that we can do everything
and can help everyone.  Some people are within our ability to help, and we should give our whole being to help them.  
Some people are beyond our ability to help, and we should tell the Lord: “This is beyond my power.  I cannot deal with
this sickness.  I have never been trained in this matter, and I cannot deal with this problem.  Lord, be merciful to him!”  
Perhaps the specific function of some members of the Body will come to our mind, and we may realize that this is
something that that brother or sister can do.  We then can refer the matter to him or her.  We know our own limitations,
and we know that this is all we can do.  We should not think that we can take every kind of spiritual work upon ourselves;
we cannot monopolize everything.  We have to see our limitations.  At the same time, we have to know the supply in the
other members.  We should be able to look to them and say, “This is something beyond my ability.  This is your
business.”  This is the principle of co-working together, the principle of the Body.  We can never move independently.

Every worker of the Lord and servant of God has to learn to know men.  Those who do not know others’ spiritual
conditions are not qualified to work.   It is unfortunate that the spiritual well-being of many people is ruined in the hands
of inexperienced brothers.  These brothers cannot render others any help.  They can only impose their subjective views
on them; they cannot meet the objective needs.  This is our most serious problem.  Others are not sick in a certain way
just because we think that is their sickness.  Whatever their spiritual condition may be, they are what they are.  Our
responsibility is to learn their spiritual condition.  If we are not properly calibrated, we will not be able to render help to
other children of God.


When a doctor diagnoses a patient, he needs the help of many instruments.  We, however, do not have any
instruments.  We do not have any thermometers or X-ray machines.  We do not have any physical instruments to
measure the spiritual condition of others.  How can we decide whether or not a brother is sick?  How can we diagnose
him?  This is where God’s work comes in.  God must turn our whole being into the very standard of measurement.  God
has to work on us to the extent that we can measure others to determine whether they are sick and to determine the
nature of their sickness.  This is how the Lord uses us.  This work is much more difficult than the work of a doctor.  We
have to have a deep realization of the grave responsibility that faces us.

Suppose a doctor does not have a thermometer.  The doctor then would have to feel the patient with his hand to
determine whether or not he has a fever.  His hand would have to function as a thermometer.  If this were the case, his
hand would need to be very sensitive indeed.  It would not only need to be sensitive but accurate as well.  This is exactly
what is going on in spiritual work.  We are the thermometers; we are the medical instruments.  Therefore, we have to go
through strict trainings and dealings.  What is untouched in us will remain untouched in others.  We can never expect to
help others in the areas that we ourselves have not first learned the lessons.  The first matter we have to settle is
whether or not we have learned the lesson before the Lord.  The more completely and thoroughly we learn our lessons,
the more useful we will be to God’s work. The less we learn, that is, the less price we pay and the more we hold back
ourselves, our pride, our narrowness, our opinions, and our joy, the less useful we will be.  If we spare and save these
things in ourselves, we will be unable to deal with them in others.  A proud person cannot deal with a proud person.  A
narrow person cannot deal with a narrow person.  A spurious person cannot deal with a spurious person.  A loose
person cannot deal with a loose person.  If we are a certain kind of person and are afraid of condemning that kind of
illness in others, we will be unable to know whether or not others have a similar illness, much less help them.  It is
possible that a medical doctor can heal others but cannot heal himself.  In spiritual matters, however, the same principle
does not apply.  First the worker is the patient; he must be healed of the sickness before he can heal others who have
the same sickness.  He cannot make others see what he has never seen himself.  He cannot make others experience
what he has never experienced himself.  He cannot make others learn the lessons that he has never learned himself.

Before the Lord we have to see that we are the very instruments which God uses to discern men.  Therefore, our very
person must be very reliable.  Our feelings and judgment must be very reliable.  In order for our feelings to be reliable,
we have to pray, “Lord! Do not let me go.” In order for our feelings to be reliable, we have to allow God to perform works
that we have never dreamed of.  We have to allow God to work on us to such an extent that we become useful to Him.  If
a thermometer cannot accurately gauge temperature, a doctor cannot use it.  A thermometer has to be reliable and
accurate.  When we try to identify others’ spiritual problems, we are facing an issue far more serious than identifying
physical illnesses.  Yet we have our own thoughts, feelings, opinions, and ways.  One minute we try to do one thing and
the next minute we try to do something else.  Because we are unreliable and unusable, we have to go through God’s
dealing before we can become useful.

Do we feel the gravity of our responsibility?  God’s Spirit does not work directly on man.  He only works through some
men.  Although the discipline of the Holy Spirit does bring a person what he needs, nevertheless, God works through the
minister’s speaking, that is, through the ministry of the word.  Without the ministry of the word, the spiritual problems of
the brothers and sisters will remain.  This responsibility is upon us.  This is a very sober matter.  Whether or not we, the
person, can be used by God directly affects the supply that comes to the church.

Suppose a certain illness always results in a temperature of 103 degrees Fahrenheit.  We cannot feel the patient with
our hand and say, “This roughly feels like 103 degrees.”  We have to be very accurate and certain that it is 103 degrees
before we can say that he has an illness that is associated with this temperature.  God is using us, the person, to
diagnose others’ sicknesses.  It is too risky for us to diagnose others if our feelings, thoughts, opinions, or spiritual
understandings are wrong, or if we have not learned enough from the Lord.  But if we are accurate and reliable persons,
ones whom God can trust, His Spirit will flow out of us.

The beginning of all spiritual work is based on our repeated calibration before the Lord.  A thermometer must be made
according to certain specifications.  It must be carefully checked according to the standard before it will give reliable and
accurate readings.  We are like the thermometer.  If we are not accurate, we will only bring in confusion.  In order for us
to be accurate, we have to be calibrated through fine dealings.  We are the doctors, and we are the instruments as well.  
Therefore, we have to learn our lessons properly.


In order to know the condition of a patient, we have to consider this matter from two sides: From the side of the patient
and from our side.

From the side of the patient, how can we determine his sickness?  If we want to know a person’s sickness, we have to
find the most conspicuous and unusual point about him.  The unusual point is the most obvious point.  No matter how
hard he tries to hide it, he cannot keep it out of sight.  A proud person will be found in his pride.  Even when he is acting
humbly, his humility still exposes his pride.  He cannot hide it.  A sad person conveys his sadness even when he smiles.  
The kind of person a man is dictates the kind of expression he displays and the kind of impression he gives to others.  
This is a fact.

The Bible describes man’s spiritual condition in many ways.  Some have a spirit of wrath; others have a spirit of
stubbornness or a contrite spirit.  In fact, we can use all kinds of words to describe man’s spiritual condition.  We can say
that a man has a frivolous spirit or a down trodden spirit, etc.  What is the source of all these spiritual conditions?  For
example, when we say that the spirit is stubborn, where does this stubbornness come from?  When we say that the spirit
is proud, where does this pride come from?  When we say that the spirit is wild, where does this wildness come from?  A
normal spirit has no characteristic of its own.  It has no characteristic other than to manifest God’s Spirit.  We speak of a
stubborn spirit, a proud spirit, a haughty spirit, an unforgiving spirit, a jealous spirit, etc., because the outer man has not
been separated from the inner man.  The condition of the outer man is the condition of the inner man.  When we say
that a spirit is stubborn, we mean that the inner man of that person has assumed the characteristics of the stubborn
outer man.  When we say that a spirit is proud, we mean that the inner man of that person has been covered with the
proud outer man.  When we say that a spirit is jealous, we mean that the inner man of that person has been shrouded
with the jealousy of the outer man.  This occurs when the outer man and the inner man are not separated.  The spirit
itself has no characteristic of its own.  The characteristics of the outer man have become the characteristics of the spirit.  
When the outer man is not broken, the spirit takes on the characteristics of the outer man.

The spirit is of God and does not have any characteristic of its own.  But when our outer man is aberrant in nature, the
spirit is affected.  The spirit can be proud or stubborn because the condition of the outer man is mixed up with the spirit
when the outer man is not broken.  When the spirit is released, the condition of the outer man tags on to the spirit and is
released together with the spirit.  A proud person tags his pride on to his spirit and releases it together with his spirit.  A
stubborn person tags his stubbornness on to his spirit and releases it together with his spirit.  A jealous person tags his
jealousy on to his spirit and releases it together with his spirit.  This is why, according to our experience, we have proud
spirits, stubborn spirits, and jealous spirits.  These are, strictly speaking, not characteristics of the spirit itself but
characteristics of the outer man.  Therefore, in order to have a clean spirit, a man does not have to deal with his spirit;
he only needs to deal with his outer man.  The trouble is not with the spirit but with the outer man.  The characteristics a
man displays when his spirit is released tell us the areas in which he is unbroken.  The kind of spirit we touch in a person
identifies the characteristics of his outer man.  It also tells us the areas in which he has remained unbroken.  He has
passed these things on to his spirit, tagging them and pegging them to his spirit.  As a result, his spirit is bound and
shrouded with the many conditions of his outer man.

If we know how to touch others’ spirit, we will know a brother’s need because the secret to knowing man is to touch his
spirit.  We have to touch the very thing that is attached to a person’s spirit.  I do not mean that the spirit itself has
anything that we have to touch.  I mean that the spirit always carries something with it.  Knowing the condition of a man’s
spirit means knowing the condition of his outer man.  We have to repeat: This is the basic principle in knowing a person.  
The condition of a man’s spirit is the condition of his outer man.  Whatever the spirit manifests is a reflection of the state
of the outer man.  The characteristics of the spirit are the characteristics of the outer man.  A brother may be very strong
and conspicuous in a certain point, which strikes our attention as soon as we come into contact with him.  It is the first
thing we touch and sense, and we immediately know that it is from his unbroken outer man.  Once we touch his spirit, we
know his condition, and we know the things he is trying to show as well as the things he is trying to hide.  We know a
person by knowing his spirit.  


What must we do before we can know the condition of man’s spirit?  We have to pay special attention to this point.  All of
the discipline we receive from the Holy Spirit is a lesson from God.  Whenever the Holy Spirit disciplines us, we become
more broken.  As we receive more discipline, we experience more breaking.  In whatever matter we receive the Spirit’s
discipline, we are broken in that same matter.  This discipline and breaking is not once for all.  Many areas in our lives
require repeated discipline and breaking before we can become useful to the Lord.  When we find that we can touch a
brother with our spirit, it does not mean that we can touch every brother with our spirit, nor does it mean that we can
touch every spiritual aspect of a brother with our spirit.  It only means that as we have been disciplined by the Holy Spirit
and broken in a certain aspect, we are able to touch a brother in that same aspect.  If we have not been broken by the
Lord in a certain matter and our spirit is insensitive or unprofitable in that matter, we cannot minister to the brother’s
need.  In other words, the discipline we receive from the Holy Spirit is proportional to our spiritual sense.  The more
breaking we receive, the more our spirit will be released.  In whatever matter we experience the breaking, our spirit will
be released in that matter.  This is a spiritual fact; it can never be artificially engineered.  If we have it, we have it.  If we
do not have it, we do not have it.  This is the reason we must accept the discipline and breaking of the Holy Spirit.  
Those who have much experience will be able to render much service.  Only those who have gone through much
breaking will acquire much feeling.  Only those who suffer much loss will have much to give others.  If we try to save
ourselves in a certain matter, we will lose our spiritual usefulness in that matter.  If we try to protect or excuse ourselves
in a certain matter, we will lose our spiritual sense and supply in that matter.  This is a very basic principle.

Only those who have learned their lessons can participate in the service.  A man can learn the lessons of ten years in
one year, or he can drag out the lessons of one year for twenty or thirty years.  If a man delays his learning, he delays
his service.  If God has given us a heart to serve Him, we must be clear about our way.  The way of our service is the
way of breaking; it is a way acquired through the discipline of the Holy Spirit.  It is impossible for those who have never
experienced the discipline of the Holy Spirit and who have never been broken to participate in the service.  The amount
of discipline by the Spirit and the amount of our breaking determine the amount of service.  No one can change this.  If a
person has this experience, he has it.  If he does not have it, he does not have it.  Human affection and wisdom have no
place here.  The degree of God’s work on us determines the capacity of our service.  The more we are dealt with, the
more we will know people.  The more we experience the discipline of the Holy Spirit, the more we will be able to touch
others with our spirit.

It hurts me very much to see many brothers and sisters so lacking in discernment in many spiritual things.  Some are of
the Lord, yet they do not know it.  Others are of the natural man, yet they are ignorant of this as well.  They do not know
when a person is exercising his mental strength or working by his own emotion.  They do not have the discernment
because they are too poor in their learning.  God has given us His Spirit once for all, but learning lessons in our spirit is
a lifetime endeavor.  The more we learn, the more we see.  Once the Lord gives us a severe blow in a certain matter, we
immediately will be alerted when the same seed sprouts in other brothers.  It does not have to develop into a big plant; a
little sprout is all that is needed for us to detect it.  The extent of the Lord’s work on us is the extent to which we acquire
such discernment.  Spiritual senses are acquired one by one, time after time.  A man can only have feelings as often as
he has been dealt with.  Suppose a person condemns pride in his mind.  He may even be able to preach on the subject
of pride.  But in his spirit he does not feel the evil of pride.  When others are proud, he does not feel sickened.  On the
contrary, he seems to be full of sympathy for them.  When God’s Spirit operates on him, he will see what pride is.  He will
experience God’s dealing, and the very matter of pride itself will be burned away from him.  When he opens his mouth to
condemn pride again, the teaching may be the same, but a basic difference will be evident.   As soon as a proud spirit
comes out of a brother, he will feel that something is wrong.  In fact, he will feel sickened.  What he has learned and
seen from God will give him a sick feeling.  No other word describes this feeling better than the word
sick.  From that
point onward he will be able to serve this brother because he knows his illness; he has passed through the same illness
and has received healing from it.  Although he cannot say that he is completely healed, he can say that he has been
healed a little.  This is how we acquire our spiritual knowledge.

God’s gift of the Holy Spirit is once for all.  But acquiring spiritual senses is a continual process.  The more we learn, the
more feelings we acquire.  The less we learn, the less feelings we have.  What use is there in trying to save ourselves or
preserve ourselves?  Those who will save their own life will lose it.  If we try to save ourselves from pain in a certain
matter, we will lose the chance of gaining what the Lord wants us to gain in that same matter.  We have to ask the Lord
not to release us from His hand.  May He work on us time after time.  The saddest thing is to see the Lord working on us
once, twice, with no result at all.  Time after time, we are ignorant of the work of the Lord’s hand.  We do not pay
attention to what He is doing.  We even oppose His work.  A man is short of spiritual understanding and discernment
because he is short in spiritual learning.  May we realize before the Lord that the more dealings we receive, the more
knowledge we will acquire concerning men and many things, and the more we will have to offer others.  In order to
expand the sphere of our service, we must expand the sphere of our dealings.  It is impossible to have an expanded
sphere of service without an expanded sphere of dealing.


After we are dealt with by the Lord and have learned our basic lessons, our spirit will be released, and we will be able to
use our spirit to touch other brothers, and we will know their condition.  Here we should discuss some practical steps in
learning to know men.

In order to touch others’ spirit, we have to let them speak.  Of course, some people can touch others’ spirit without
waiting for them to open their mouths.  But such persons are rare.  Generally speaking, we have to wait for others to
open their mouth.  God’s Word says that out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.  No matter what intention
or tactic a man may have, what he says comes out of the abundance of his heart.  If he is spurious, a spurious spirit will
come out.  If he is jealous, a jealous spirit will come out.  We can touch a person’s spirit by listening to what he says.  
When a man is speaking, we have to pay attention not only to the things he is saying but to the condition of his spirit.  
We do not know men merely by their words but by their spirits.

When the Lord Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem and two disciples saw the Samaritans rejecting Him, they said, “Lord,
do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?”  Once they opened their mouths, their
spirits came out.  The Lord said, “You do not know of what kind of spirit you are” (Luke 9:54-55).  Here the Lord showed
that one’s spirit can be discerned by listening to his words.  As soon as words come out, the spirit is exposed.  Out of the
abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.  Whatever the condition of the heart is, the mouth will reflect it.

In listening to others, we should pay attention not only to their story but also to their spirit.  Suppose two brothers are
arguing, and both say that the other is wrong.  When the matter is presented to us, how should we deal with it?  When
the argument broke out, only the two brothers were present.  We do not know what happened.  But as soon as they
open their mouths, we can find out something; we can know their spirits.  Among Christians, wrong is not judged by
mistakes in facts but by deviations in spirits.  When a brother opens his mouth, we may not be able to tell if he is wrong
according to facts, but we immediately can tell whether he is wrong in spirit.  He may accuse others of slandering him,
but his own spirit is wrong.  The whole issue depends on the spirit.  A person with a wrong spirit is wrong not only in the
things he has done but also in his very own person.  Right and wrong before God are determined by the spirit, not
merely by facts.  Therefore, in listening to others, we have to touch their spirit.  In the church many problems are related
to the spirit, not to facts.  If we judge everything according to the facts, we will bring the church into another realm.  We
are in the realm of the spirit, not in the realm of facts.  We should never be dragged away by the facts.

If our spirit is open, we will be sensitive to all kinds of spiritual conditions.  Sometimes we will sense when the other party
has a closed and bound spirit.  At such times we have to make discernments with our spirit and learn to know him.  May
we be able to echo Paul’s word: “We, from now on, know no one according to the flesh” (II Corinthians 5:16).  We should
not know men by the flesh.  We should know men by the spirit.  Once we learn this basic lesson, we have a way to go on
in God’s work.


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