About Worrying… And Judging

3 But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man’s judgment: yea, I judge not mine self. 4 For I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord. 5 Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God. 1 Cor. 4:5

Oh, how we worry! How we worry about what people think about us. Some of us worry until we develop stomach ulcers.

(I guess that’s why I love President Donald Trump. He never seems to worry about anything!)

I love what the Apostle Paul says here:

“… it is A VERY SMALL THING that I should be judged by you.”

Can you imagine that? And yet here we are, believers, fretting about every little thing that is said about us and frying our hair on account of people’s attitudes towards us. But Paul says he does not worry in the least about what people think or say about him. In other words, Paul is saying that that was the least of his concerns. What a relief!

Of course, there are legitimate worries for the believer; and I am not talking about the stock market. Worrying about the stock market translates to worrying about your stomach, which is something that God is totally against. Actually, there is only one legitimate worry for the believer in the entire world, and that worry is sin in his/her life. That’s why the Apostle Paul talks of

“the hidden things of darkness…”

and

“the counsels of the hearts”.

Yep! That should really worry us. It should worry us if we have dark corners in our hearts. And it should worry us if the counsels of our hearts are not aligned with God’s will. That should really, really, really have us worried!! And we should not stop worrying until we have cleared every trace of darkness from our hearts. Let us strive to live a sinless life through living the crucified life; and we shall experience true freedom!

But there is another side to the coin. There is another side to this grace that we have been called to inherit. Right here the Apostle Paul tells us what that grace is. He talks about not judging things before that time.

“Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God.”

Have you ever realized how quick we are at judging people? By judging, I believe the Apostle Paul meant both good and bad judgments. On the one hand we heap praises on people; and on the other we judge others harshly, largely based on… well, what we don’t know! We think we know people; but we can never really know a person’s heart perfectly. Probably the most difficult thing in this world is knowing absolutely what is in a man’s heart. In fact, it is impossible for mortal man to know what is in another man’s heart. Only God knows our hearts perfectly. We know only in part. So what does scripture tell us here?

Quit praising men; and quit judging men. We should take people at face value and leave the judging and praising to God. If someone lies to you, for example, that is your business only to the extent that, once you learn of his lie, you can have compassion on him and pray for him to repent. Beyond there, leave it to God.

The same goes for the praises. Actually, the only Person you can praise with a perfect heart is our Lord Jesus Christ. Go easy with the rest.

One of the things that I am absolutely sure of on judgment day is that there will be many surprises; and not small ones. Some will be very disturbing. Others, hopefully, beautiful ones. For this reason, the Apostle Paul is beseeching us to keep these things (praises and judgments) to the barest manageable minimum down here. According to the Bible, we don’t know anything yet; and for this reason there is no reason why we should even praise or judge men at all! Let’s leave that to God alone.

Ultimately, I love the fact that there is grace is Christ to live the kind of life that the Apostle Paul lived. That is what we should be truly grateful to God for. Paul lived that kind of life; why can’t we? I pray God therefore that He may enable me – and you – to keep the two important things in our lives in mind: firstly, to mind our own business, as it were; i.e. the business of keeping our hearts clear and sinless; and secondly, to take people at face value and leave the judging and praising to God.

[It is impossible for mortal man to know what is in another man’s heart]

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“I am Crucified With Christ”

I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” Gal. 2:20

The former president of the United States, Barack Obama is famously reported to have stated that the sweetest sound he has ever heard is the Moslem call to prayer, or the “muezzin”. That call has been there since Mohamed; and the Moslems never tire of hearing it.

What about us? What is the sweetest sound that we have ever heard, and that we should never tire of hearing? What are the words that we should daily welcome enthusiastically into our hearts and lives until the end of time?

My vote goes to the words by the Apostle Paul,

“I am crucified with Christ.”

These are the sweetest words that could sincerely come out of the mouth of a Christian believer. After all the singing, after all the praying, after all the preaching, after all our service to God and man; our ultimate destination is to find ourselves crucified with Christ. If we did all of the above without crucifying our flesh, it would amount to nothing.

Indeed, the above words by the Apostle Paul ought to get sweeter and sweeter to the believer’s ear by the day. They ought to be a daily call in our lives, a call that we relish and eagerly look forward to every day of our lives: to absolutely lose self, that the life of Christ may be found in us.

Indeed, our Lord Jesus Christ said so Himself. In Luke 9:23 we read:

“And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.”

There is much ado in the church today. Unfortunately, a disproportionate amount is much ado about nothing, for the church has a singular calling, which is to crucify the flesh to the end that Christ may live in us.

[The beautiful land of central Tanzania]

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Called… To The Cross

22 For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after widom: 23 But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; 24 But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. 1 Cor. 1:22-24

Someone asked me why so many people who profess to follow Christ end up in clearly unbiblical churches. Quite specifically, he asked, “Why doesn’t God reveal to them the gospel which the Apostle Paul preached, the gospel of the cross? How come so few believers seem to understand this gospel of the cross?”

I had also struggled with this same question, but at the exact time that the brother asked it of me, God gave me the answer. Actually, I realized the answer had been lying in open sight right in front of both our eyes all along; yet we had never been able to see it.

At that very moment, I answered the brother, “The Bible says that God reveals the understanding of the cross to those He calls. That’s what it says right there: ‘But unto them which are called…‘”

In every generation, the people whom God has called to Him have learned to deny themselves, to take up their cross, and follow Christ. That was exactly the command that Christ gave to those whom God would call.

“If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” (Mat. 16:24)

These believers were not taught in Bible class to deny themselves. They did not have even have beautifully designed blogs like this one that talked about the cross. On the contrary, the ‘education’ of the cross came to them naturally, by the power of the Holy Spirit in them. They were taught by the Holy Spirit. They learned through God to live the crucified life.

As I said, this grace is there in every generation. Even today, God is calling men and women to Him, and when He calls them to Himself, the Holy Spirit teaches them to deny themselves. (Even in the lowest of periods, God has always had a remnant – 1 Ki. 19:18). And so we must question whether a ‘church’ that is running merely after miracles, signs and wonders – a church that would want to make this ministry the bona fide calling of God – is truly of God.

It is very telling that in all the apostolic epistles nowhere does the Bible mention miracles, signs and wonders; certainly not to the extent that the church today would want to trumpet these things. Rather, the New Testament emphasis is on the cross. Little wonder, then, that Paul could boldly state:

“22 For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after widom: 23 But we preach Christ crucified…”

Paul could simply have said, “We preach Christ crucified…” without dragging in the beliefs of the Jews and the Gentiles. But Paul was no PC idealist. On the contrary, he wanted to make it clear to the church that the only gospel that had any impact on the spiritual lives of believers was the gospel of the cross, the gospel that would teach believers to follow Christ in denying themselves through taking up their cross. Any other gospel – including the gospel of signs and wonders – has zero impact on the spiritual lives of believers.

Elsewhere, the Apostle Paul says:

“For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.” (1 Cor. 1:17)

The subject of Paul’s statement here is the cross of Christ, or, rather, the power that was in the cross of Christ. He says he preached to the end that the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.

Again, any other gospel has nothing to offer to the man or woman who would be spiritual.

Now, in this materialistic generation, where people are going to church to “receive” and to be “blessed” in Jesus’ Name, the cross cannot but be set aside in favour of the gospels of signs and wonders. At the other end of the spectrum are those who love to have their grey cells tickled. For these the doctrine of human wisdom takes precedence.

We need to become un-politically correct and ask this modern-day church: Is it too hard a thing for we believers to agree with the Bible? Is it really just too hard to side with Jesus’s command? Or with what the Apostle Paul and all the other apostles taught?

And now, to end…

[The church is not a place for miracles]

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An American Story

During our just-ended Easter ladies’ conference in Shinyanga, one of the most powerful testimonies came from a man who had traveled all the way from the USA to attend the conference. Brother Richard said, “In America we are very arrogant. We think we know it all. But when the gospel (of the cross) came to our church through Brother Neil Martin, we knew it was something we were missing.

“I have been saved for 40 years, but for the last ten years the Lord has shaken and shaped me, and He has shown me His way through the gospel of the cross… And I have seen it is here, too… it is wonderful to see it here; and I am so happy to be here.”

Those were extremely powerful words. And these words echo in every place the gospel of the cross is preached and accepted, be it in Africa, America, or Asia. Men nd women of God experience unbounded joy in the Spirit when they come into contact with the gospel of the cross of Jesus Christ.

The gospel of the cross is the most powerful force in the world. No wonder the Apostle Paul would not entertain anything else in his ministry.

“1 And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. 2 For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” (1 Cor. 2:1-2)

[Brother Richard right there in the middle]

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Paul – A True Servant

1 I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cencrea: 2 That ye receive her in the Lord, as becometh saints, and that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you: for she hath been a succorer of many, and of myself also. 3 Greet Priscilla and Aquila my helpers in Christ Jesus: 4 Who for my life laid down their own necks: unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. 5 Likewise greet the church that is in their house. Salute my well-beloved Epaenetus, who is the firstfruits of Achaia unto Christ. 6 Greet Mary, who bestowed much labour on us. 7 Salute Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen, and my fellow-prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me. 8 Greet Amplias my beloved in the Lord. 9 Salute Urbane, our helper in Christ, and Stachys my beloved. 10 Salute Apelles approved in Christ. Salute them which are of Aristobulus’ household. 11 Salute Herodion my kinsman. Greet them that be of the household of Narcissus, which are in the Lord. 12 Salute Tryphena and Tryphosa, who labour in the Lord. 13 Salute the beloved Persis, which laboured much in the Lord. Salute Rufus chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine. 14 Salute Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermas, Patrobas, Hermes, and the brethren which are with them. 15 Salute Philologus, and Julia, and Nereus, and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints which are with them. Salute one another with an holy kiss. The churches of Christ salute you…. 21 Timotheus, my workfellow, and Lucius, and Jason, and Sosipater, my kinsmen, salute you. 22 I Tertius, who wrote this epistle, salute you in  the Lord. 23 Gaius mine host, and of the whole church, saluteth you. Erastus the chamberlain of the city saluteth you, and Quartus a brother. Rom. 16:1-23

Ah, the Apostle Paul! Paul’s life is a study in the working of the grace of God in every way.

Notice how close and personal Paul was to the people he ministered to. This was another grace that he had, apart from the grace to preach the gospel. Paul had the grace to live, interact with and know God’s people. He knew each one of them intimately. Of course, Paul did not Google their profiles. On the contrary, he paid the price to get to know them in as fine details as he did.

Notice also Paul’s salutation in his epistle to Philemon.

“1 Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ, and Timothy our brother, unto Philemon our dearlly beloved, and fellowlabourer, 2 And to our beloved Apphia, and Archippus our fellowsoldier, and to the church in thy house…” (Phlm. 1:1-2)

How did Paul come to relate to God’s people in such an intimate way?

Paul lived with the people of God. One of the things that I love about the Apostle Paul was that he did not end up in 5-star hotels when he visited the churches. Rather, he lodged in brethren’s houses. Here he tells us who his host was. It was Gaius, a brother in the local church.

In that way, Paul got to know each one of God’s people individually.

You cannot get to know people intimately if you are a hotel-based preacher. Preachers always tell people how much they need to have that all-important privacy in order to be with the Lord, etc. My reckoning is that you should spend all the time you need to be with the Lord before you go to the conference or meeting. Once you join up with God’s people, you are their property and you should avail yourself to them fully. You are not, for example, to come to the service just in time to be welcomed to the pulpit with the reasoning that you could not have come earlier because you did not want your anointing to be tainted, etc. You couldn’t possibly be more anointed than the Apostle Paul was!

Some preachers, especially here in Africa, stay in their hotel rooms long after the services have began. Meanwhile, God’s people are forced to sing for hours just waiting for the man (or woman) of God to show up!

Again, if you, a preacher has any intention of relating to God’s people, you are not to be whisked away in air-conditioned cars – sometimes a whole procession of them – and treated with gloved hands as if you are the most important person in that meeting. The most important person in that meeting are the people God has sent you to minister to. As a matter of fact, you should make every effort to sacrifice as much of your time, energy, money, comfort and freedom as possible for the sake of God’s people.

If possible, walk with the people of God to their homes.

A true servant of God is he who will serve God’s people. He will spend time with God’s people, serving them in whatever way they need to be served. Above all, he will not desire, nor encourage red-carpet treatment for himself. He will desire to walk the narrow road in every sense of the word to the end that he may be an example of what the given Christian life ought to be. To this end he will be like our Lord Jesus Christ who had

“not where to lay his head.” (Lk. 9:58)

If anyone deserved to be lodged in a 5-star hotel, it was the Lord Jesus Christ. But He even did not have a place to lay his head.

And pray, what will your reward be for living such a sacrificial life? There is the heavenly reward, of course. But apart from that God will reward you with the joy of knowing your brothers and sisters in greater intimacy, as we see Paul here. Here we see Paul’s joy as he connects with each brother and sister whom he has known in Rome. In verse 15 he even says,

“Salute… Nereus, and his sister…”

I am sure that if Paul knew of Nereus’ sister’s name, he would have addressed her by name. It could well be (conjecture on my part) that Nereus’ sister was not even a member of the church; but Paul got to know this family real close and he therefore includes her in his greetings.

The point is, Paul was a man who knew his people well. God’s people were not just numbers to him. He does not say, “I am glad to hear you have 200 members in the church in Rome”; as desirable as having a large number of church members is.

In sacrificing his life for the sake of God’s people in this way, Paul perfected his service to Christ.

[Paul lived with the people of God and he took the trouble to know every one of them individually]

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God’s Hidden Purpose – Part 1

8 Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; 9 And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Christ Jesus: 10 To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, 11 According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord. Eph. 3:8-11

So much to contemplate here, so I will make this post a series.

Notice, first, how Paul perceived himself.

“Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given…”

This was no false humility. This was Paul! Paul dared not consider himself anything above what he states here. “The least of all the saints…” he said of himself. Such humility simply takes your breathe away.

And yet, unbeknown to us, God through Paul was stating exactly who He gives His grace to. The Apostle James put it out in black and white.

“God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.” (Jam. 4:6)

Let a man not just mouth the words, but let him live that life, and God has material to work with. And, y’know, people think that where the big crowds are, that’s where God is at. Oh, please! No one could possibly pull in bigger crowds than the devil. The Bible tells us that “many” there be that follow the way that leadeth to destruction (Mat. 7:13). If we are talking about a mega-church, the devil has the largest.

On the other hand, “few” find the way to eternal life.

The Church, Christ’s Bride, His Body, is like a diamond. Rare. And the men whom God puts in charge of His Church are even rarer. God cannot give anything but His best for His Church. The men whom God has put on earth to birth and nurture the Church are therefore the best of the best. They are called apostles.

The Bible firmly declares,

“And God hath set some in the church, first apostles…” (1 Cor. 12:28)

The apostles are the best of the best.

That is why the Apostle Paul could make such a claim:

“Unto me… is this grace given”.

Why?

Ha! Simply because he was the best. And Christ gives His Body, the Church, the best.

[“Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it” – Eph. 5:25]

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A Gospel And A Life – Part 2

1 And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ.

When the Apostle Paul set out to write 2 Corinthians chapters 11 to 13, he set out to accomplish the greatest mission of all: to prove how the gospel of Jesus Christ worked in his life. This is the greatest accomplishment that any man can accomplish this side of heaven: proving the gospel of Jesus at work in him. Let us not forget the gospel that Paul preached.

“But we preach Christ crucified…” (1 Cor. 1:23)

Simple and clear. Paul did not preach any other gospel. Paul did not try to bring up any ‘smart’ doctrines or anything to show how clever or intelligent he was. Nor did he try to show how ‘powerful’ he was. Paul wanted to show the power of Christ.

Any other gospel other than the gospel of the cross will produce false ministers of the gospel – the kind of fellows that we talked of in Part 1 – who in turn will turn out unproven Christians under their watch. Paul therefore set out to prove that the gospel of Jesus Christ was at work in his life. He gave the example of his own life as proof that the true gospel of Jesus Christ was working in him.

So how did the gospel work in Paul?

The gospel worked through Paul through weakness!! Hallelujah to that! The gospel worked through Paul allowing himself to become weak. The gospel brought in Paul a broken man. Paul would gladly boast of nothing of himself except his weaknesses.

“… of myself I will not glory, but in mine infirmities.” (2 Cor. 12:5)

The “infirmities” Paul talks about are his sufferings for the sake of the gospel. The sufferings for the sake of the gospel are the mark of a true servant of Jesus Christ.

This is according to God’s will, for Jesus says in Revelation3:19:

“As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten”.

Paul rejoiced in the rebuke and chastening of the Lord! It was his only joy. That’s so different from us.

Paul lays out his sufferings in 2 Cor. 12:23-33.

“… in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft… 27 In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness… 32 In Damascus the governor under Aretas the king kept the city of the damascenes with a garrison, desirous to apprehend me:  33 And through a window in a basket was I let down by the wall, and escaped his hands.”

An apostle let down through a window in a basket!

Paul was hounded and pounded. And here Paul lays down the challenge: “If anyone wants to boast in the Lord, let him boast as I have boasted – in his sufferings for the gospel!” This was proof that Paul was a minister of Jesus Christ.

That seems incredible enough, but what is even more important was the reason for Paul’s sufferings. In Colossians 1:24 Paul talks about the reason he endured his sufferings:

“Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church”.

This life – laid down on the altar of sacrifice – produced the kind of person that God could use, one that could do the whole will of God. Such an one would love Christ’s church as Christ Himself loved it. Such was the man, Paul. He loved Christ church as Christ Himself loved her and gave himself for her.

In 2 Cor. 12:9, Paul writes:

“… Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”

What “power” is Paul talking of here. Is it the power to lord it over God’s people?

No, on the contrary, it is the power to give of his life for God’s people sacrificially. The power to do all he could so that others could be built up in the Spirit. The power to lay down one’s life.

With such a man God was well pleased. Need we wonder, then, why Paul was given the mandate to preach the gospel throughout the known world and to single-handedly write half the entire New Testament?

[Recently sighted…]

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