No Longer After The Flesh – Part 2

“Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh…”

When it comes to boasting in the things of the flesh, we are pros. That is where the flesh is at. But God is so far removed from such things. In fact, the Bible says that God resides in the third heaven. Not the first, or second, but in the third heaven. So when the Apostle Paul came from visiting God in the third heaven, he had enough spiritual sense not to boast in the things of the flesh (as he thought he knew the flesh). He had enough sense not to say, “Oh, you know, I am so educated.” Or, “I was once a Pharisee!” Or, “I am a Roman citizen” (which was a tough spot for a Jew to gain in those days).

And yet, these are the things we boast of when we do not have the revelation of Christ in us. We hear preachers introducing themselves with the theological degrees they have attained in this world. But all such people are looking for there is worldly acclaim, nothing else. And it is so pitiful.

But, still, about Paul. Although he had the sense not to boast in his natural attainments, still he wanted to boast! He was looking for any way to boast. (The flesh is not an ordinary enemy!}

So now he looked for another way to boast. He decided it was okay to boast in the things he had seen in heaven. There appeared no harm there.

The long and short of it was Paul was tempted to boast. He says in 2 Cor. 12:7:

“And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations…”

He wanted to boast, although whatever he would have said was true and of God. He had gone to heaven and seen things which it is lawful for man to utter.

But God would not allow it. So He put a thorn in Paul’s flesh. God put that thorn there to the end that Paul might not boast in anything else other than that thorn. He told Paul, “You want to boast? Boast in that.”

When God truly loves someone, He will not allow him to boast in the things of the flesh. Instead, God will lead that man or woman to boast in the things of his or her weakness.

That is the central message of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is

“Jesus Christ, and him crcufied” (1 Cor. 2:2)

I love that. I love that with all my heart. I want to be weak, that He may be strong in me.

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The Battle Against The Flesh – Part 2

25 Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

26 For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called:

27 But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty;

28 And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are:

29 That no flesh should glory in his presence.

30 But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption:

31 That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord. 1 Cor. 1:25-31

Although we are particularly thick-headed, yet verse 25 is trying to tell us something. In the natural state of affairs, everything, man included, wants to go only up. We grow up, not down! But in the Spirit, we are to take the opposite route. We are to go down. We go down with Jesus. We are to accept to be weak and foolish in this world. Philippians 2:5-8 says:

“5 Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: 7 But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: 8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.”

Now, we cannot hope to fathom the weakness and folly that attended Jesus’s actions here. The folly and weakness – the denial of self – that He exhibited here is incomprehensible to the human mind. But we are to follow Christ in worldly weakness and foolishness.

Notice, now, verses 27 and 28. Why would God choose the foolish things of this world, and the weak, and the base and despised? And why does the Bible expressly state that

not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called”?

Maybe God does not like problems. And, in the natural course of things, educated people and the rich and those with positions are, to say the least, a bit of a problem. They know things; they have things. It is very difficult for man to humble himself, so these kinds of people tend to be a bit dificult. Scripture declares:

“Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth.” (1 Cor. 8:1)

It is no secret also that most white people have a superior view of themselves against other races. Whether rightly so or not, that sort of thing ought not to happen in the church. But the cold fact is that the minute natural man latches onto something, he wants to use it to elevate himself. The Bible says so.

That is why, when the authority of Christ is not in the church, men bring titles and everything else of the world into the church. But where the authority of Christ is at work, no one wants to be recognized for who they are. Rather, God’s people will desire only to reveal the fruit of the Spirit through the cross working in them. This was the singular thing the Apostle Paul desired to have in his life.

“But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.” (Gal. 6:14)

Paul counted anything he might have had in the natural as dung! In Philippians 3:7-8 he writes:

“7 But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. 8 Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ”.

Paul had a lot to lose in the natural. But he realized that these things are of no value in the Spirit. But the fruit of the Spirit matters!

Is God really against the wise of this world, and the moneyed and them who have positions?

The answer, unfortunately, is yes. God wants the people He has called not to glory in these things. God does not want you waving your Ph. D in church. Go throw that in the dustbin and bring your circumcised heart into the church!

God wants us to glory in the things of the Spirit. But the flesh craves the glory of this world.

But… are we really weak when we accept to follow Christ in His weakness?

No, we are not. The Bible says of the exact moment that Jesus died on the cross,

“51 And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; 52 And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, 53 And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.” (Mat. 27:50-53)

Great power attended Jesus’s shameful death.

It is the same with us. Great power attends a righteous man’s death. In weakness, we release great power in the Spirit. And in worldly folly, we become wise in the Spirit.

It has been one of the greatest privileges for me to minister amongst people who have little worldly education or wealth in central Tanzania.

It is wonderful to see how quickly faith builds up in such people, and to see the humility of their hearts.

[One of the purest sources of joy in my life is working with these humble men of God]

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Of Apostles And Prophets – Part 3

1 For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles,

2 If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward:

3 How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words,

4 Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ)

5 Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit Eph. 3:1-5

Finally, let us look at the New Testament. In John 21:18-19, Jesus told Peter,

“18 Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not. 19 This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow me.”

First, let us consider verse 19.

I used to think Jesus was talking about Peter’s physical death. But scripture here is talking about how Peter would glorify God. It is so banal to think of Jesus telling Peter, “When you grow old, someone will come, bind you and go kill you” even if Jesus wanted to communicate such information to Peter.

But scripture is no ordinary writing. So there must be something more to what Jesus was saying to Peter. I believe He was telling him, “You will glorify God by dying to self. By surrendering your life (and rights) and allowing the crucified Christ to fully live in you. You will glorify God by dying to your own selfish ways and desires.”

Which brings us to Jesus’s words in verse 18:

“Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not.

Who is this “another” that Jesus was talking about?

It is Jesus Himself. We are to be prisoners of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Which brings us to the Apostle Paul and the great work that he accomplished in the Spirit.

Remember that Paul states in 1 Corinthians 15:10:

“But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.”

Paul says that he labored more than the other apostles. That word, “laboured” as we shall see below, could better be translated “loved”. But Paul does not give himself credit for his accomplishments; on the contrary, he credits the grace of God. In clearer terms, Paul had more grace than the other apostles.

So how did Paul come to have more grace than his counterparts?

It was because he allowed himself to become a bond-slave of Jesus. He allowed Jesus to bind him hand and foot and to lead him where he would not want to go. In Ephesians 6:20 Paul says:

“I am an ambassador in bonds…”

Bonds are not the most comfortable thing for one to be in. Which means that Paul was forced into that situation. Willingly? Yes. And this brings us to 2 Corinthians 12:7-10.

“7 And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. 8 For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. 9 And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.”

The truly ‘abnormal’ thing about the Apostle Paul was that he realized that there was only one way to “labour” for God effectively. And by laboring for God it meant loving the church. Why do you think Paul wanted to be “strong”? It was for the sake of the church. Paul loved and cared for the church with everything that he had in him! And Paul realized He had to surrender self. He had to die to self in order to truly love and serve Christ’s Body, the church.

When Paul realized this, he happily stretched out his hands and allowed the Lord to bind him. He gladly gave his flesh over to the cruel messenger to be buffeted. And thus it came to be that Paul got filled to the brim with the grace of God. Grace to enable him to fulfill his desire to love the church as Christ loved it.

You can see the grace of God in Paul’s life written all over his epistles and in the Book of Acts. He was full of humility, compassion, and love towards God’s people.

And then, again, he was full of Godly wisdom. He could bring the revelation of the cross right up to any level you asked him to (1 Corinthians chapters 1 -4).

But Paul could also compassionately tackle issues which did not have a direct answer from scripture. He would therefore write the Corinthians,

“Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me… I have no commandment of the Lord: yet I give my judgment, as one that hath obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful.” (1 Cor. chapter 12)

What humility! And what Godly advice without a “Thus saith the Lord!”

That was the Apostle Paul. Fully surrendered to God, and fully fulfilling the purpose and calling of God upon the church, which was to love it.

That’s who a true apostle is. He is one to whom the cross is revealed, to the end that he may love the church as Christ loves it.

[I do not know many things. But I do know I love the old Hillsong songs]

Of Apostles And Prophets – Part 1

1 For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles,
2 If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward:
3 How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words,
4 Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ)
5 Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit (Eph. 3:1-5)

There are certain ‘Christian’ cults that look down on the ministry of the Apostle Paul. They will say, “Talk to me about anything, but not Paul!” For reasons known to them, they just ‘do not like’ his doctrine, and they read his letters just in order to get something to criticize.

Well, I cannot help but feel sorry for them. They are not going to get anywhere with God with that kind of attitude. No one is really going anywhere in the Spirit without at least trying to understand Paul’s doctrine. You cannot make light of someone who wrote more than half the New Testament and hope to understand the littlest thing about the God the Bible is all about.

You cannot make light of someone who made the sacrifices that the Apostle Paul made for the sake of the gospel. He even forsook taking a wife and experiencing the unthinkable pleasures of holding a woman to his bosom. (The Roman Catholic church has tried that and it failed miserably. There are some things you cannot do without understanding what Paul understood).

But the real fact about the Apostle Paul is that it was he who came to reveal, more than anyone else, the end of the writings of the Old Testament and the words of our Lord Jesus Christ. In the life of Paul, as in the life of our Lord Jesus Christ, the writings of the Old Testament and the words of Jesus Christ came to be fulfilled. Paul followed hard on the footsteps of his Master.

Jesus told Simon Peter,

“These things have I spoken unto you in proverbs: but the time cometh, when I shall no more speak unto you in proverbs, but I shall shew you plainly of the Father.” (Jn. 16:25)

But it was the Apostle Paul to whom the heart of the Father would be revealed to the fullest. The Apostle Peter himself acknowledged this fact.

“15 And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; 16 As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.” (2 Pet. 3:15-16)

In verse 16 the Apostle Peter reveals that many would rise up to oppose Paul’s doctrine of the cross.

In the following two posts, I intend to show, through one example each from both the Old Testament and the words of Jesus, how the central message of scripture – to take up our cross and follow Christ – came to be fulfilled in the life of the Apostle Paul.

[Taking a walk in the bush is my favorite pastime. Here, with my friend Dude]

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Circumcision vs The Cross – Part 2

There is no other way of becoming spiritual other than crucifying the mind of the flesh together with its lusts (Gal. 5:24). That is the singular most importance understanding that a believer can have in his or her life

We can therefore see the significance of Paul’s words in verse 11:

“Ye see how large a letter I have written unto you with mine own hand.”

We can understand why he would want to put everything else aside and emphasise the importance of this revelation to the Galatians. The revelation of “Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2) was the singular most important thing that they could grasp in their lives.

When we lack that revelation in our hearts, we look to form, tradition and anything that can be grasped with our human understanding. The Galatians looked to circumcision.

There are so many things that believers today think are important in their lives; but which are not.

The Apostle Paul puts it out so clearly the single most valuable thing in a believer’s life:

But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.”

Not tradition or form; but a work of the Spirit in someone’s heart.

[The work of the Holy Spirit in us transforms us]

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Circumcision vs The Cross – Part 1

11 Ye see how large a letter I have written unto you with mine own hand.

12 As many as desire to make a fair shew in the flesh, they constrain you to be circumcised; only lest they should suffer persecution for the cross of Christ.

13 For neither they themselves who are circumcised keep the law; but desire to have you circumcised, that they may glory in your flesh.

14 But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.

15  For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature.

16 And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.

17 From henceforth let no man trouble me: for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.

18 Brethren, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen. Gal. 6:11-18

This post is a progression of my last post. I am sorry it has taken me so long to write it. But I pray it will bless whoever reads it.

Seeing that the Bible is God’s Word written by His own hand through men who were sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit, we must be careful how we interpret scripture.

Let us take verse 11 above, for example. Let us try and examine what the Apostle Paul means by a “large” letter; and, secondly, “with mine own hand”. The answer to this question is important to our understanding the rest of this portion of scripture.

Does Paul, in verse 11, mean he wrote this epistle in unfamiliarly large script? Or that he wrote the letter using capital letters? And why add “with mine own hand”?

The keyword here is “emphasis”. Paul here was talking of the emphasis that he placed on whatever he was telling the Galatians in. And, considering they had waded knee-deep into circumcision (made with hands), he was emphasizing, not only the futility, but also the danger of this exercise in their lives, for he says in Galatians 5:4:

“Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.”

This danger is as real in our modern times as it was in Paul’s time. It is just as we saw in our last post about the futility of the modern idea that making a pilgrimage to Israel had anything to do with our spiritual journey. It is a spiritually dangerous idea.

Am I saying Christians should not visit the land of Israel? Hardly. But religion as we know it today is, to a large extent, man’s way of evading the cross of Jesus Christ, for our sole calling is to suffer with Christ. And this is the very purpose of the revelation of the cross in our hearts: to enable us to partake of the sufferings of Christ. And what, pray, are these sufferings?

The Christians sufferings incorporates dying to the worldly lusts in us. The cross crucifies the world to the believer, and the believer to the world. And that, in a nutshell, is what it means to be spiritual; and the aim of our salvation is to be spiritual.

[Beating out the sunflower harvest in Singida]

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Abigail’s Beauty – Part 2

Now the name of the man was Nabal; and the name of his wife Abigail: and she was a woman of good understanding, and of a beautiful countenance: but the man was churlish and evil in his doings; and he was of the house of Caleb. 1 Sam. 25:3

Many years ago, when I was a small boy, my school organized an expedition for some of us to visit a ship at the coast. When we arrived, the ship’s captain led us on a tour of the big ship; but I do recall that the one thing that made a permanent mark on my mind was the engine room. It was huge. When we walked down there, it was like we had entered a different world altogether. At that young, impressionable age, the engines appeared to be a hundred stories high! Surprisingly, there was not much activity going on down there. In fact, I recall it was like we found no one down there. Just the large engines powerfully humming away by themselves.

Then the captain spoke to us about the engines. I remember the word he used. He said, “The engine room is the heart of the ship.”

The engines, he told us, drove everything on that ship. Nothing could work on that ship if the engines were dead. The engines were the life of the ship. In other words, the engines made the ship to become a ship! Without the engines, that ship was just a big piece of scrap metal sitting uselessly (and possibly dangerously) on top of the ocean waters.

It is the same with us. The heart is our engine room. It is our very life. Our heart controls everything we do. And God, in his infinite wisdom, is concerned only with what issues from our hearts, for this is where our life is. As far as God is concerned, if we are to do things without the heart, we might as well not do them. God does not regard anything that is not done from the heart. That was exactly what He meant when He told Samuel:

“…for the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart.”

The man who wrote the Book of Proverbs probably received one of the greatest insights into God’s working, for he wrote:

“Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.” (Proverbs 4:23)

Out of a man’s heart comes every issue of his life. His character comes out of his life; and so does his success, his prosperity – and even his beauty. And, in more ways than one, this inner life comes out and brightens a man’s exterior life.

That said, we cannot, as spiritual people, measure success, beauty or prosperity in material terms. No, we measure these things through what comes out of a man’s heart.

Consider Joseph. The Bible says of him,

“And Joseph was a goodly person, and well favoured.” (Gen. 39:6)

What does the Bible mean by “goodly”? Does it mean he was good-looking, handsome? He might have been, but that is not what the Bible is talking of here.

Or, “well favoured”; what does that mean? Does it mean Joseph was built like Hercules? By no means. We might not even have any inkling of Joseph’s physique, for that is not what the Bible is referring to here.

The Bible is not interested in these things. Rather, in using these terms, the Bible is trying to show us the kind of heart that Jospeh had. Joseph had a “goodly” heart (not physique); and the term “well favoured” means he had the grace of God in him. And, through having this kind of heart, Joseph prospered.

How about Moses? The Bible record about Moses states:

“By faith Moses, when he was born, was hid three months of his parents, because they saw he was a proper child; and they were not afraid of the king’s commandment.” (Heb. 11:23)

Does that mean that Moses was more handsome than his siblings and that his parents therefore gave more consideration to him than to the others?

Hardly. On the contrary, the writer here is talking in the Spirit. In the Spirit, Moses’s parents saw into his heart. They somehow saw, in the Spirit, that this boy would turn out to be a vessel in God’s hands. And for that reason (for they were people of faith), “they were not afraid of the king’s commandment”; and they hid Moses.

Finally, let us consider the life of what most people regard as the Bible’s favorite character, David. In most people’s imagination, as well as in folklore and in countless modern-day movies on the subject, David is given the character of a strapping, handsome young man. My guess is that all this comes from what people read about David in 1 Samuel 16:12:

“… Now he was ruddy, and withal of a beautiful countenance, and goodly to look to. And the LORD said, Arise, anoint him: for this is he.”

But th church has no place for Hollywood’s portrayal of a Biblical figure. All the attributes that the Bible lays out here talk, not of David’s physical appearance, but of his heart. Yes, the commendations that this particular scripture places on David are many, but that is because the heart of David had so many credentials to it.

Many of us would love to have such credentials attached to our names in God’s heavenly Kingdom;  but there is a price to pay. And these men and and women were willing to pay the price.

The price we have to pay to become beautiful in our spirits, as the writer of Proverbs tells us, is to guard our hearts. And, when it comes to guarding our hearts, there is no way around it apart from denying our selves, taking up our cross, and following Christ.

Need we wonder, then, why the Apostle Paul would preach such a singular gospel,

“Jesus Christ, and him crucified”? (1 Cor. 2:2)

It was because he realized the power of the cross. The Apostle Paul said,

“Whereunto I also labour, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily.” (Col. 1:29)

Christ worked in Paul’s heart mightily. The Apostle Paul was one of the most beautiful people spiritually. It was because he allowed the cross to work in him. When our hearts are well, we are the most beautiful people in the world.