Absent in Body but Present in Spirit

Is it possible to be in two places at one time? According to the Apostle Paul, it is. He made this point clear in his letters to the Colossians, Thessalonians and Corinthians.

For even though I am absent in body, nevertheless I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good discipline and the stability of your faith in Christ. (Colossians 2:5 NASB)

But we, brethren, having been taken away from you for a short while—in person, not in spirit—were all the more eager with great desire to see your face. (1 Thessalonians 2:17 NASB)

In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul told the believers he would be with them in spirit when they assembled even though he would be absent in body. They had a serious problem in their church. A man had his father’s wife. So Paul’s presence in the assembly was important to everyone involved. Not only was Paul present in spirit while absent in body, but he even exercised his spiritual authority to remove this man from their assembly and deliver him to Satan.

Here is how Paul explained it:

For I, on my part, though absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged him who has so committed this, as though I were present. In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, and I with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. (1 Corinthians 5:3-5 NASB)

Our physical body is part of the natural realm. We need our body to live in this realm. But we also need our spirit so we can live and interact with the spiritual realm. While the natural realm is always staring us in the face, the spiritual realm is hidden, except to those who seek it. So it is easy to be more aware of natural things than spiritual things. As a result, we tend to be focused more on our body than on the spiritual realm.

The spiritual realm goes way beyond the natural realm. It is far greater than the natural realm. Things that are impossible in the natural realm are possible in the spiritual realm. The spiritual realm has authority over the natural realm. The limitations we are most familiar with in the natural realm are not a problem in the spiritual realm. Our natural mind cannot comprehend this, but our spirit can believe it and know it.

To understand what Paul was saying, we must sharpen our dull spiritual senses. We must renew our natural mind by hearing and believing and acting on the word of God, which is spirit. Only then can we see what Paul saw, that it is possible to be assembled together in spirit while absent in body.

With television, radio and the Internet, we can do things today that have never been possible for any previous generations. We can tune in to church services that are thousands of miles away. We can tune into services live or from years ago. Regardless of time or distance, we can join with other believers there and partake of the same spirit and same word. We can enter into the same presence of God as we worship with them. Yes, it stretches our natural minds to comprehend how this is possible, but it is possible.

This story illustrates the point. One of the greatest revivals in the last 50 years was the outpouring in Lakeland, Florida from April to August, 2008. God TV broadcasted these meetings all over the world. Rory and Wendy Alec, founders of God TV, said based on the number of testimonies they received, this was by far the greatest move of God they had ever broadcast. They received thousands of testimonies from people all over the world who had been miraculously healed. Some people even reported their family members being raised from the dead!

I first discovered the Lakeland meetings on God TV. After watching for a few weeks, one day the Lord told me to go there for a few days. So I went with a friend of mine. It was totally awesome. One lady standing a few feet from me had a blind eye opened.

There were people there from all over the world. One lady told me how she came with her family from England. She had seen the meetings on television there and had sensed the Spirit of God touching her in her home, so she came for more.

As awesome as these meetings were for those who were in attendance, the impact was far greater outside of Lakeland. The reports were coming in from people all over the world who were being touched by the Spirit of God. The television audience was enormous.

All of this supports what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 5. It is possible for us to be joined together in spirit, even while absent in body. This happens more than we realize.

Another example is playing anointed music on the radio or from a CD or Ipod. I play music everyday during most of my prayer time. It doesn’t usually take long after turning on the music before the Spirit of God comes into my room in a very tangible way. Very often he speaks directly to me through the lyrics. Not only that, but he somehow does it with perfect timing, answering things I just thought about a moment before. My Ipod has a shuffle feature that shuffles the sequence of the songs. I suspect the Holy Spirit gets involved in the shuffling somehow to play the exact songs I need to hear that day. The music could have been recorded years ago in a far away place. That does not prevent my spirit from joining together with the people who were worshiping the day of that recording.

Although Paul knew the spirit realm was not limited by the location of our physical body, in his letter to the Hebrews he acknowledged the benefits of assembling together.

And let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:24-25 NASB)

Although Paul encouraged the Hebrews not to forsake assembling together, it is important to keep his point in the same context he put it in. He was emphasizing the importance of stimulating one another to love and good deeds, and encouraging one another. Assembling together was important only as a means to that end. Paul put the emphasis on the end result, not on the means to that end.

Why is this important? Because putting the emphasis on the end result produces liberty. Shifting the emphasis to how you achieve the end result produces bondage. This is a subtle but very important difference.

Research studies by the Gallup Organization have identified four things that all great managers do. I am not going to take time to cover all of them, but one is they clearly define the end objective they want their people to achieve. Having done that, they empower their people by giving them the liberty to get it done in whatever way they see fit. Great managers keep the focus on the end results.

Ronald Reagan was not only a great President, he was a great manager. He told his staff he couldn’t care less how they achieved the end result. All he was interested in was getting the end result. This approach liberates people to take ownership of the task and make the most of their own unique talents. It is no coincidence that Reagan was also a big believer in the power of liberty for all people. All of his economic policies centered around the idea that it was better to empower individuals rather than the federal government. He not only believed these ideas, he proved they really work!

Putting the emphasis on how you get to the end result shifts the focus away from the most important thing, which is the end result. We humans already struggle with being so focused on the natural realm that we get blinded to the spiritual realities. This is why it is important to keep Paul’s point in the same context he put it in. Otherwise the focus is shifted away from the objective and onto the means.

Shifting the focus to natural things like re-locating your physical body into a church building also contradicts Paul’s letter to the Corinthians where he told them it was entirely possible to assemble together in spirit, even though absent in body. In fact, he himself was assembling with them that way.

I have often heard preachers quote part of verse 25, telling their church members “Don’t forsake the assembling together!” But I have rarely heard this verse quoted in the context of what Paul was saying. They make a big problem out of something Paul told us in 1 Corinthians 5:3-5 was not a problem at all.

In my opinion, the reason why this verse gets distorted is because many pastors have an agenda. They want their people to come to their meetings. I have even heard church leaders discuss this in leadership meetings. I have heard them refer to research studies which show that people who come to the meetings are far more likely to pay their tithes and offerings than those who don’t come. So if that means taking scriptures out of context to make them say something they did not say then so be it. If that means causing people to get bound up with man-made rules and religious traditions then so be it.

But wait, it gets worse. When people hear their pastor tell them the end goal is getting their body into the church building, they mistakenly think they have accomplished something great when they bring their body into the building to sit on the pew for an hour or two a week. They have completely missed the point. This misguided thinking is not what Paul was telling us. If all you do is go to the meeting, sit down and receive the message, then get up and go home, you have missed the whole point of assembling.

It would be far better to get the spiritual part right while absent in the body than to get the body part right while missing the whole spiritual point. Yet, it seems most of us still focus more on getting the body part right. It is possible to earn gold stars for church attendance and still go straight to hell when you die.

That was exactly what happened to Kenneth Hagin when he was a teenager. He has written his testimony of how he died and went right up to the gates of hell 3 times. The first two times he thought it was not real. He thought he was hallucinating. But the third time he realized he was really going to hell. Here is an excerpt from his book:

And in the darkness, I cried out, “God! I belong to the church! I’ve been baptized in water!” (You see, I was telling Him, “I shouldn’t be going this direction. I’m going the wrong direction.)

I waited for an answer, but there was no answer; only the echo of my own voice through the darkness. And the second time I cried a little louder, “God! I belong to the church! I’ve been baptized in water!”

I waited for an answer, but there was no answer; only the echo of my voice as it echoed through the darkness.

I would scare a congregation out of their wits if I ever imitated the way I screamed the third time, although if I could scare them out of hell and into heaven, I would do it. I would flat do it!

I literally screamed, “GOD! GOD! I BELONG TO THE CHURCH! I’VE BEEN BAPTIZED IN WATER!” But you see, although being baptized in water is right, although belonging to the church is right, it takes more than belonging to the church and more than being baptized in water to miss hell and go to heaven!

And all I heard was the echo of my own voice as it echoed through the darkness. I came again to the bottom of that pit. Again I could feel the heat as it beat me in the face. Again I approached the entrance, the gates into hell itself. That creature took me by the arm. I intended to put up a fight, if I could, to keep from going in. I only managed to slow down my descent just a little, and he took me by the arm.

Thank God that voice spoke (this voice had spoken each of the previous two times). I don’t know who it was. I didn’t see anybody. I just heard the voice. I don’t know what he said, but whatever he said, that place shook; it just trembled. And that creature took his hand off my arm.

It was like there was a suction to my back parts. It pulled me back, away from the entrance to hell, until I stood in the shadows. Then it pulled me up head-first.

As I was going up through the darkness, I began to pray. My spirit, the man who lives inside this physical body, is an eternal being; a spirit man. I began to pray, “O God! I come to you in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. I ask you to forgive me of my sins and to cleanse me from all sin.”

Even though Kenneth Hagin had been baptized and belonged to the church, he was heading straight for hell. Not only was he a member of the church, but in another place he tells how he attended the church meetings every time the church doors opened. Though he was present in body, he received no benefit because his spirit was not in right relationship with God. So when he died he was going to hell because he had never received Jesus Christ into his heart as his personal savior. His spirit man had never been born again. If not for the mercy of God and his mother praying for him at the top of her lungs, he would have stayed there. He finally got born again when he was coming up from hell for the third time.

So it is possible to assemble together with lots of bodies all coming together in one place, yet still miss the mark because you failed to get the important things right. In the case of Kenneth Hagin, he had failed to get born again. In the case of many other church-going Christians, they might be saved and going to heaven but they are still missing the mark if they fail to come to the church assembly for the purpose of stimulating one another to love and good deeds.

If you go to church meetings only to receive without giving anything out to help others, you have missed the opportunity to encourage others. You might as well have stayed home and watched the service on the web stream or television. There are no special rewards given out just for re-locating your physical body, despite the fact that some have tried to make it sound like there are.

The flip side of this is also true. You can be mindful of stimulating one another to love and good deeds even while absent in the body. If this was possible for Paul during the first century, it is even more possible for us today. Paul was not able to join his Corinthian friends by watching their meeting on television or a webcast, yet he was still able to be with them in spirit. Today we have the added benefit of the Internet and television and radio. Paul had none of these things, but he did have the oldest form of media broadcasting, the written word.

Through the written word, Paul provoked them to love and good works, encouraged them, instructed them, joined together with them in their assembly, and even exercised his spiritual authority to help them resolve a difficult problem. He did all of these things while absent in body yet present in spirit. As he told them in his letter, “when you are assembled, and I with you in spirit.”

Paul did a lot of face to face ministry as he traveled to many places, but most of his ministry was done while absent in body, through the written word. His letters allowed him to reach beyond his generation to every generation after him. He demonstrated for all of us the power of the media, the power of being absent in body but present in spirit.

If a first century believer was able to accomplish so much while absent in body, how much more are we able to do the same today through our modern media such as books, DVD’s, CD’s, MP3 players, radio, television and the Internet?

Jesus came to earth and lived here for 33 years in a physical body. After he was crucified and raised from the dead, he had every right to stay on earth living in his resurrected body. If he did, he would still be here today because his resurrected body will never die. But he chose not to stay. He told his disciples,

“But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.” John 16:7

Jesus wanted what was best for his disciples including all those to come in future generations. The location of his physical body was not his main concern. He was more interested in getting the best end results than how he got them. If staying on earth in his resurrected body would have gotten the best results he would have stayed. But since it was better for us if he was absent in body, then he did it that way.

In our own lives, we must make choices about whether to go places with our body or without. Should you go shopping at the mall or just shop online? Should you go visit your mom or just call her on the phone? We have more choices today than any previous generation. We have email, texting, facebook, twitter, regular snail mail (slow but it still works), skype, and on and on.

More and more people are able to work from home today than ever before because we have access to everything we need. I work from home even though I have an office and a warehouse just 12 miles from my house. By using remote desktop, emails, and phone calls, I am able to do everything I need to do more efficiently from home than I could by being there. Just like millions of other people, it works better for me to be absent in body.

The amazing thing about our generation is not only are we able to receive help from tuning into ministry broadcasts, we are also able through these same media channels to fulfill the end goal that Paul was seeking. We can encourage others. We can stimulate them to love and good deeds. How is this possible without being there? Well, consider the fact you are reading this. I am absent in body but with you in spirit. When I wrote this or where I wrote it is not important. The point is I have written this to help you, to fulfill the purpose for us assembling together. Yes, it is possible for us to assemble together in this way. We are separated by time and space yet still together. God has given us the freedom to come together in this way. So shake off the shackles of religious tradition because this is totally acceptable and pleasing to God.

With Twitter and Facebook and many other social sites, plus free blogging sites, video sharing sites like youtube.com, audio and video pod-casts and on and on, you can easily give out help and encouragement to others. We have been given greater opportunities than any other generation.

Patricia King, founder of Extreme Prophetic Ministries, says God showed her one of his top priorities for these last days is raising up a media army to win the lost. By every means available, God is raising up people right now to take his good news into the arts, music, dance, broadcasting, books, radio, television, movies, and the Internet. Maybe God is calling you to join this army.

When Jesus visited the home of Martha and Mary, Martha was distracted with all the preparations but Mary was seated at the feet of Jesus, listening to every word. Martha even complained to Jesus about this. She felt Mary was being irresponsible by not helping her. But Jesus saw things differently. He told Martha,

“Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:41-42

Like Martha, we have to be careful not to get distracted and bothered by things that are really not the important thing. We get so weighed down by so many things, even following man-made rules that the Lord never meant for us to follow. But God lifts those heavy loads and brings us to a place of great joy and far greater freedom than we ever imagined possible.

I have gone to great lengths here to break this down line by line, precept by precept, not only for your sake but also for mine. I was so bound up in religious thinking for so many years, it took me a while before I could really break free from that to forget about things that are really not important and focus on what is important. When the Lord began showing me these things a couple of years ago, my mind was telling me no way, yet my spirit was hearing the Lord say this is right, and it is right. I have given many different scripture verses to prove it.

Regardless of what area God has called you to or what unique talents he has given you, do not allow anyone to bring you into bondage. Keep your eyes on the end goal and allow God to empower you to reach it!

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