Leaving the Church and having wilderness experience has another purpose. It is not just to train us, but it is for our own weak faith and conscience. We need to be alone with God. We need to hear His voice. When we go into the wilderness, we usually do not know that we need to be trained. Therefore, we strenuously object to this school. I know this from personal experience.
When He brought me into the wilderness in 1981 and 1982, it was a real shock to my system. I thought I was pretty sophisticated in doctrine and quite mature spiritually. I found out then that I knew absolutely nothing. As I look back on it now, I can hardly believe how ignorant I was—and probably still am! Give me about ten years, and then I will know how ignorant I am today.
We are brought into the wilderness, not so much because of the corruption in Saul’s Church, but because WE need training. We tend to think that God is going to lead us out because the Church is unclean, and we are not to touch the unclean thing. We think we are to leave in order to remain untainted by the Church. Well, there is an element of truth in that view. However, there is another side to it. If we were to be given a great revelation of truth before our faith and conscience were strong, we would probably do more damage than good in trying to force the Church to see the truth.
Let me explain.
The New Covenant comes with a job to do. 1 Cor. 8 gives us this job description in verses 1-3:
1 Now concerning things sacrificed to idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies. 2 If anyone supposes that he knows anything, he has not yet known as he ought to know. 3 But if anyone loves God, he is known by Him.
Do you see the difference between knowledge and love? Mere knowledge is not enough. If all we have is knowledge, we tend to be arrogant. It is not that knowledge is bad or undesirable. It is actually very good. But knowledge without love is nothing. It is love—not knowledge—that edifies. Wilderness training is not so much to train us in knowledge as it is to train us in divine love.
When people speak the truth without love, they are not only a clanging cymbal, they are actually doing damage to the people’s ears. I have seen my share of damage done by zealous people who have some knowledge, and I have done my fair share of this damage, too. Paul says to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15). When we can do that, then we are ready for ministry, because then we begin to know the mind of God. We do not need to teach people facts about the Bible; we need to show them the mind of God. Paul continues in 1 Cor. 8,
4 Therefore, concerning the eating of things sacrificed to idols, we know that there is no such thing as an idol in the world, and that there is no God but one. 5 For even if there are so-called gods whether in heaven or on earth, as indeed there are many gods and many lords, 6 yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things, and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him. 7 However, not all men have this knowledge; but some, being accustomed to the idol until now, eat food as if it were sacrificed to an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled.
What is Paul really saying here? What is this meat sacrificed to idols? Let us go back to Leviticus 17:7 to lay the foundations of the law to which Paul was referring,
7 And they shall no longer sacrifice their sacrifices to the goat demons with which they play the harlot. This shall be a permanent statute to them throughout their generations.
You can find another reference to this in Num. 25:2, where the people unlawfully ate of the sacrifices made to the gods of Moab.
Here is what Paul is teaching us: The law says, “Do not eat meat sacrificed to idols.” But what is an idol? There is no idol to someone who has a strong conscience. But to one who has a weak conscience, he cannot eat this meat without feeling defiled. Such a person feels guilty and cannot do so in good conscience.
There is more meat than just physical meat. Biblical teaching and anything that you hear as a Word from God is spiritual meat. But what if you go to a Church and you hear preaching that offers God’s Word to the idols of the preacher’s heart? The traditions of men which go contrary to the true Word is all “meat sacrificed to demons.” Are you defiled by hearing these traditions? To hear is to “eat.”
Will it defile you if you remain in your seat? Can you stand to hear it, meditate upon it, chew it, and process it spiritually?
If you are defiled by it, maybe you need more wilderness training in order to strengthen your conscience and your faith. Perhaps you are not yet ready to be sent back into the Church, for you are yet weak and would be defiled by all that “false doctrine.” If your conscience is yet weak, and you feel defiled, you will probably get up and walk out in protest, or disrupt the meeting in some other way. The people around you will probably not be very impressed with your behavior. They will lose respect for you, not because of your difference in belief, but because of your attitude and intolerance.
Intolerance comes from a weak conscience and causes men to be offended. Psalm 119:165,
165 Great peace have they which love Thy law; and nothing shall offend them.
Those who lose their temper, or who are offended or angered, usually lose the respect of those around them. Respect may be regained by humbly asking forgiveness, but most people do not do this, for they feel justified in their anger. This is what Paul means when he speaks of a weak conscience. It is easily offended. Before we can be effective in our ministry to others—including other Christians in the Church—we must have a stronger conscience that is not offended by food sacrificed to idols.
Once you have had your wilderness training, and your faith is strong, and you know what the truth is, and you know how to teach the people the truth in love, you can come back into the world or the Church and listen to any Bible passage that the preacher may sacrifice to the idol of his own heart—and it will not defile you or offend you. In fact, you will be listening to hear the voice of God at all times, and so even in the midst of this unholy sacrifice, you may hear God speak to you some truth you had never known.