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]

The Preacher – A Man in Bonds

For which I am an ambassador in bonds… Eph. 6:20

The word “bonds” means chains. Why would God put Paul in chains?

There are two things that characterize a true man of God. By a man of God, we mean a person who represents God. That is what an ambassador is. A man of God is a person who characterizes Godliness.

The first thing that characterizes a man of God are his words. By his words I mean the Word of God that he speaks. Many preachers preach for preaching’s sake. Yes, they know the Word and they can expound on it. But skilfully expounding on scripture is hardly God’s Word. A preacher must preach what he has been sent to preach, not what he wants to preach. We cannot preach a message just because it sounds good to us. The Apostle Paul says:

“18 Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints; 19 And for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel, 20 For which I am an ambassador in bonds: that therein I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.” (Eph. 6:18-20)

Notice Paul asks the Ephesians to pray for him that he may be enabled to preach as he ought to preach, not what or how he wants to preach. That means that Paul was asking the Ephesians to pray that God would put His Word in Paul’s heart and mouth. It was not that Paul could not preach. I believe he could preach very well; moreover, he knew so much he could have preached the world to his hearers.

But Paul desired to do or speak nothing apart from what God had told him to do or speak. For God looks at His Word and His purpose to accomplish it. He does not look to accomplish the whims of man.

That is the first important thing that characterizes a man of God. He must be able to speak God’s Word as he has been sent to speak. He must not speak God’s Word just because he can speak it or because he wants to speak it.

When he speaks God’s Word according to God’s directions, his hearers will hear God’s voice and they will be edified. They will be warned, encouraged and given direction – all in the Spirit.

The second thing that characterizes a true man of God is His life. Our Lord Jesus Christ said,

“16 Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? 17 Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.” (Mat. 7:16-18)

Jesus is not talking about the preacher’s message here. He is now talking about a preacher’s life.

One of the most prominent tele-preachers and faith healers in our country, who has a huge following, was recently caught on video insulting and threatening to kill his neighbor. The neighbor is not saved. But, for a long time, he had kept chiding the pastor: “You are not fit to be a pastor!”

Without a doubt, the neighbor knew things about this pastor that many people, including this pastor’s congregation, did not know.

On this particular day, this pastor parked his car right in front of his neighbor’s gate, got out, and said, “This is your day!”

Someone was passing by and he recorded the whole saga – all the insults and the threats – on their cellphone. It is now all over social media.

The pastor was subsequently arrested and interrogated at the police station.

Now his loyal congregation is writing on social media: “Do not talk evil of the anointed man of God!”

But whether we are to heed Jesus’ words or peoples’ whims on social media is a choice we have to make on our own.

In a separate incident, a lady once visited my house and in the course of our conversation she told me about how her pastor had prayed for her to get healed from an ailment that had troubled her for a long time. She had in fact spent a lot of money in a private hospital trying to get treatment, but her condition only worsened.

“But”, she told me, “ever since the day that the pastor prayed over me, that condition ceased troubling me. I was set completely free.”

But she told me many other things about this pastor and the way he ran the church, things which brought only confusion to her spirit. In short, his character and behavior did not in the least reflect that of Christ.

The true man of God must live a life that conforms to that of Christ: a life where the flesh has been put to death and where Christ rules supreme in that man. The Bible says:

“2 A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; 3 Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; 4 One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; 5 (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) 6 Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. 7 Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil. 8 Likewise must the deacons be grave, not doubletongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre; 9 Holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience.” (1 Tim. 3:2-9)

It is up to the church to choose whether to follow God’s guidelines in the running of its affairs or to respect men instead. Today, there are men in the church who are bigger than Christ Himself. But, in the true church, it is Christ, “the fulness of him that filleth all in all.” (Eph. 1:23)

For that to happen, the man of God must of necessity be put in chains by Christ. This is so he cannot do or speak his will, but Christ’s.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Paul – A Bond Slave of Christ

18 Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints;

19 And for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel,

20 For which I am an ambassador in bonds: that therein I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak. Eph. 6:18-20

Notice that Paul was “… an ambassador in bonds”.

Have you ever seen a man in chains? Not handcuffs, but real chains. Sometimes we see prisoners in, say, the prison at Guantanamo, in chains. The chains make it impossible for the prisoners to move about with any amount of freedom.

That is what Paul is talking of here. But he is speaking in the Spirit. The fact that he was chained in the natural or not is not what Paul is referring to here. He is talking about being chained in the Spirit.

Paul was chained by God Himself. And the reason that God chained Paul was so Paul would not speak or preach anything that did not come from God. God did not want Paul to preach in his own freedom. He did not want him to preach anything he thought he wanted to preach. Above all, God did not want Paul to preach things that came from his mind. And mark you, Paul had one of the finest minds you will ever find on this earth. But God did not want anything to do with that.

(Some of the most misguided preachers today are men who carry the world’s most brilliant minds.)

When Paul therefore went to the Corinthians, he was already in chains, God’s chains, and this is what he tells them:

“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. 3 And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. 4 And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: 5 That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.” (1 Cor. 2:1-5)

Scripture here gives us, in a nutshell, a true picture of the attitude that a servant of God ought to carry in ministry. Notice Paul ministered “in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling” because he feared lest he compromise the message that God had committed him to bring.

It is incredible how Christians believe that every person who claims to be a preacher has been sent by God. And it is even more incredible the amount of garbage that Christians swallow believing it is the Word of God.

But the truth is that not many preachers actually carry the true, unadulterated Word of God. Most of today’s preachers have not even been sent by God, and all they carry is human wisdom, the lusts of their own flesh.

And why, pray, is it that most preachers cannot bring the true Word of God to the church? It is because not many are true “ambassadors in chains” in the Spirit. Not many preachers will allow themselves to be chained by God in the Spirit. Not many would accept to undergo the kind of life that the Apostle Paul or John the Baptist lived. Not many would accept to be debased.

Many preachers want to speak and live freely. But that is a dangerous place to be because that is exactly where the devil wants them to be. The devil wants preachers to be free in the flesh. Thus they can “speak their mind”, literally.

But Paul did not want “speak his mind”. He wanted to speak “… as I ought to speak.”

How did Paul ought to speak? Paul wanted to speak as God wanted him to speak. Sometimes we overlook the fact that we have a nature in us that wants to be heard.

God therefore stripped Paul of his freedom, and put him in chains. He put a bit in his mouth. He told him, “From today on, you, Saul, are dead. You will henceforth be known as Paul, my servant.”

Not too long ago, someone approached me and they wanted me to write something. They told me, “Mwita, you are such a fine writer, we think you should begin writing such and such a thing.”

The thing they wanted me to write on had to do with the gospel all right, but in a slightly different vein.

My mind thought about the proposal, but in my spirit nothing moved. It was quiet there as a graveyard. But I was too foolish to make the connection.

And then, one day, I read this scripture, where Paul revealed that God had chained him in order that he would not preach anything other than the Word that came from God’s mouth. Instantly, I knew that God did not want me to run that series.

I did not ever answer the brethren, and I am glad they never called back. For me, it was over.

By saying that, I do not claim that everything I write in this blog is God’s Word. There are times, I am sure, when I write before I have heard clearly – or even vaguely – from God. But, that notwithstanding, my desire is only to say what comes from God’s heart. Hopefully, one day, I will arrive at the full realization of that desire. But I know it will come at a price, a price that I am slowly becoming conscious of in my heart.

God’s church is sacred. We cannot play about with God’s church. We cannot preach whatever we want just because we are looking for money, fame or influence. As human beings all we have our own personal agendas, agendas which are not of God. Actually, the human agenda is all about self. We therefore cannot bring God’s agenda into the church or to the world, even with the best of intentions – unless we are on the right foundation. That foundation is the revelation of the cross of Jesus Christ, where we are daily crucifying the flesh.

Paul told the Corinthians: “I protest by your rejoicing which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily.” (1 Cor. 15:31)

This foundation is what Paul is talking about when he says he was “an ambassador in bonds”. The crucifying of our fleshly desires should be our aim as children of God. Only then can we be sure that we are serving God as we ought to.

[Below: Beautiful Tanzania – “Karibu!”]

Karibu!

Photo Credit: Carol Lanthier

Onesiphorus! – Part 2

Many of us think we love the Lord. We would be surprised to learn that we don’t. We might not be aware of it, but there are thousands, probably millions of Christians who love this world more than they do the Lord Jesus. The saddest fact is that they are unaware of it because they have been ‘taken captive’ by a different gospel other than the one that the Apostle Paul preached. They are unaware of the fact that the gospel is about denying self. It is about taking up our cross and following Jesus.

It is clear from Paul’s epistles that not many born-again believers in his time were willing to “partake of the cup” of the sufferings of Jesus with him. That being the case, why would we, the Church of today, think that we are so willing and ready to follow Jesus? Actually, we do not need a diviner to know that we are not. That fact is clear to even the most intransigent apologetic.

Because of an absence of the gospel of the revelation of the cross of Jesus which crucifies the flesh, many variant gospels have been fashioned and allowed into the Church which give Christians a false sense of following and serving the Lord, while clearly they are serving the flesh.

We little realize that we, too, are not any different from Phygellus and Hermogenes.

It is telling that at this particular time in his ministry Paul found only one person worth mentioning – Onesiphorus, who gladly identified with and served Paul during this time of Paul’s persecution.

When Paul was undergoing persecution, very few people stood by him. At times he stood absolutely alone. If you have read the Bible you know it is true.

But Onesiphorus was “not ashamed” of Paul’s ‘chain’. In other words, this was a man who took up his cross and, following after Jesus, welded his life to Paul’s sufferings.

Elsewhere Paul talks of Priscilla and Aquila “who have for my life laid down their own necks”. (Rom. 16:4)

Onesiphorus practically partook of the sufferings of Christ.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is not for the crowd. It is not for the thousands.

The gospel is for a chosen few – a very few. It is for those who will lay their lives on the line for the gospel’s sake.

Many of us are not willing to do so, in spite of our vocal declarations to the contrary. We are contented to live the gospel to the extent of our own personal gain and comfort, no more. We scream and rave upon hearing the prosperity message, the gospel of blessings. But when we hear the message of suffering, we suddenly turn cold. We say, “This is a strange doctrine!”

Probably it is time to wake up and walk away from the crowd. Probably it is time to have another look at the gospel we are hearing in light of the revelation that God is bringing to us today, and to determine to be born into that spirit of the sufferings and death of Christ.

Onesiphorus! – Part 2

Many of us think we love the Lord. We would be surprised to learn that we don’t. We might not be aware of it, but there are thousands, probably millions of Christians who love this world more than they do the Lord Jesus. The saddest fact is that they are unaware of it because they have been ‘taken captive’ by a different gospel other than the one that the Apostle Paul preached. They are unaware of the fact that the gospel is about denying self. It is about taking up our cross and following Jesus.

It is clear from Paul’s epistles that not many born-again believers in his time were willing to “partake of the cup” of the sufferings of Jesus with him. That being the case, why would we, the Church of today, think that we are so willing and ready to follow Jesus? Actually, we do not need a diviner to know that we are not. That fact is clear to even the most intransigent apologetic.

Because of an absence of the gospel of the revelation of the cross of Jesus which crucifies the flesh, many variant gospels have been fashioned and allowed into the Church which give Christians a false sense of following and serving the Lord, while clearly they are serving the flesh.

We little realize that we, too, are not any different from Phygellus and Hermogenes.

It is telling that at this particular time in his ministry Paul found only one person worth mentioning – Onesiphorus, who gladly identified with and served Paul during this time of Paul’s persecution.

When Paul was undergoing persecution, very few people stood by him. At times he stood absolutely alone. If you have read the Bible you know it is true.

But Onesiphorus was “not ashamed” of Paul’s ‘chain’. In other words, this was a man who took up his cross and, following after Jesus, welded his life to Paul’s sufferings.

Elsewhere Paul talks of Priscilla and Aquila “who have for my life laid down their own necks”. (Rom. 16:4)

Onesiphorus practically partook of the sufferings of Christ.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is not for the crowd. It is not for the thousands.

The gospel is for a chosen few – a very few. It is for those who will lay their lives on the line for the gospel’s sake.

Many of us are not willing to do so, in spite of our vocal declarations to the contrary. We are contented to live the gospel to the extent of our own personal gain and comfort, no more. We scream and rave upon hearing the prosperity message, the gospel of blessings. But when we hear the message of suffering, we suddenly turn cold. We say, “This is a strange doctrine!”

Probably it is time to wake up and walk away from the crowd. Probably it is time to have another look at the gospel we are hearing in light of the revelation that God is bringing to us today, and to determine to be born into that spirit of the sufferings and death of Christ.

Onesiphorus! – Part 1

This thou knowest, that all they which are in Asia be turned away from me; of whom are Phygellus and Hermogenes. The Lord give mercy unto the house of Onesiphorus; for he oft refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain: but, when he was in Rome, he sought me out very diligently, and found me. The Lord grant unto him that he may find mercy of the Lord in that day: and in how many things he ministered unto me at Ephesus, thou knowest very well. 2 Timothy 1:15-18

I have come to realize that many people do not like reading long posts. That is why when I do a long post I divide it into parts, for ease of reading. That also gives the reader the option of reading on only if they want to do so. Karibu!

Upon reading the King James Version of the above scripture, one might be misled into thinking that it was only Phygellus and Hermogenes who had turned away from Paul; but the Swahili Bible says, “amongst whom are Phygellus and Hermogenes”. Which would agree with what that same scripture says, that “all” who were in Asia had turned away from Paul. Not a few, or some, but all.

That is awesome and difficult to comprehend. Can you imagine people – Christians – turning away from Paul, the great apostle? And not just some, but all! And these were people who had been born into the gospel through the ministry of Paul himself. We are so used to holding preachers in such high esteem (which we should) that this scripture appears somewhat odd.

But did you ever know that the Apostle Paul lived a life that one could hardly attribute to a preacher of his calibre? Did you ever know that at various intervals in his life Paul had inadequate clothing (and that’s probably an understatement. It is no stretch of the imagination to envision Paul, at one time or another, attempting to pull a torn piece of raiment over his spare body!); did you know that at times Paul went hungry; and did you know that much of the time he lacked many of the basic necessities of this life? Yes, he lacked. Not that he did not want these things; no, he lacked someone to supply him with them.  At times Paul had to work with his own hands to provide a living for himself and those who were with him. And this was a man who had preached the gospel to the entire continent of Europe and beyond!

Today I hear preachers saying they have 5,000 church members, and most live like it. Paul had much more, if it is numbers we are talking about. But apparently there were not many people who were providing for Paul! Despite the ‘greatness’ of his ministry, not a great many people thought of supplying him with his needs. You can read that in Philippians chapter 4.

The Apostle Paul lived a life that would have many an ‘apostle’ or ‘prophet’ of today throw their apostolic garb into the street and ran away very hard if they were confronted with the kind of life he lived! His was a classic case of being rejected for the gospel’s sake.

But let us consider again the question that why would people turn away from Paul? What was it that the Apostle Paul had that made people to want to run away on meeting him? It was the gospel he carried. It is clear from the Bible that the Apostle Paul carried a very dangerous gospel. The gospel that Paul carried and preached had something unsafe about it. It had an aroma of death. And we all know what our reaction to death is – we run away from it!

Paul’s gospel had a price tag on it; and it was not any price, but the highest price. It demanded one’s very life. It commanded a denial of self. But Paul’s gospel simply echoed Jesus’ words, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24).

Paul refused to compromise and he would not preach any other gospel or ‘water down’ the gospel of the Cross and denial of self that had been commissioned to him by Christ. He tells the Corinthians: “For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” (1 Cor. 2:2) Paul preached the gospel of the cross. Consequently his gospel alienated him from people.

It would appear that initially people accepted Paul’s gospel gladly; but the truth takes time to sink in. Sooner or later these same people realized exactly what the gospel demanded from them, and many (many, not a few) simply found themselves unable to pay the price. They turned away from Paul and his gospel. You can see it all over Paul’s epistles. He became, for example, an enemy to the Galatians. The Corinthians were up in arms against him also. (Paul had to start all over again with these churches!)

In every epistle, Paul had to confront the spirit of anti-christ – the spirit that is against the sufferings of Christ.