Your Heart! – Part 3

17 And when he was entered into the house from the people, his disciples asked him concerning the parable.

18 And he saith unto them, Are ye so without understanding also? Do ye not perceive, that whatsoever thing from without entereth into the man, it cannot defile him;

19 Because it entereth not into his heart, but into the belly, and goeth out into the draught, purging all meats?

20 And he said, That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man.

21 For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders,

22 Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride foolishness:

23 All these evil things come from within, and defile the man. Mk. 7:17-23

The freedom that we have in the Spirit can only be accessed through the cross. The cross working in our lives, that is. Any freedom outside of the cross of Jesus Christ is of the flesh. True faith, whereby this freedom is found, states with the Apostle Paul:

“19 For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live to God. 20 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. 2:19-20)

Notice the things that Paul says about himself. He is

  1. “dead”;
  2. crucified with Christ”;
  3. “I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me”;
  4. “the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the Son of God”.

Paul’s life was crucified! Paul no longer lived! On the contrary, Christ lived in him.

What profound facts! What a profound place to be! What an entirely different lifestyle from the humdrum and tepid Christian lifestyle that most believers live. We are so carnal, so selfish and so self-centered, and therefore we are deprived of the beauty and the power of the Kingdom of God.

Notice Paul says that because he was crucified with Christ, therefore Christ lived in him.

“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me”.

The two cannot exist together. You cannot be alive and at the same time have Christ live in you. If Christ is to live in you, you must go. That was the revelation that Paul received from Christ.

And yet, as we see here, the truly wonderful thing about Paul was that, as he says in Acts 26:19,

“I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision”.

It is all about obedience. Paul could have received the revelation and sit there and begin wringing his hands and mulling over how he would one day crucify his life. He could have said, “What a wonderful revelation! I am now going to lay me down and sleep and I can come back next year and look at this revelation in a different angle. After which I will work out how to approach the cross. Oh, what a wonderful revelation!”

But no. Not this man, Paul. When Paul received the revelation of the cross, he crucified his life. He crucified his life with Christ, to the end that the life of Christ might be found in his mortal body.

This reminds us of Abraham who, when God told him to circumcise himself and all the men in his house, the Bible says:

“23 And Abraham took Ishmael his son, and all that were born in his house, and all that were bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham’s house; and circumcised the flesh of their foreskin in the selfsame day, as God had said unto him… 26 In the selfsame day was Abraham circumcised, and Ishmael his son.” (Gen. 17:23-26)

On the very day that God told Abraham to circumcise himself, Abraham obeyed God and did so.

God is pleased when we obey Him instantly, as Abraham did.

The need for obedience is the reason why, in our key scripture, Jesus swoops in on the heart. It is such a waste of time, energy and resources to approach the things of God through form and the other natural avenues that we attempt to. The reason for all this preoccupation with these things is because we are nursing our disobedience. For this reason we will never arrive where God wants us to arrive at: His throne room of power, grace and wisdom.

But Jesus wants to help us to go directly to God and to receive from Him. We do this through obedience.

In speaking to His disciples about the heart, Jesus was in effect saying, “Circumcise your hearts; that is enough with God”.

When we fail to circumcise our hearts, we are just going round and round in the wilderness like the children of Israel. They did so for 40 years and in the end they all died there!

What a tragedy. But yet, again, what a lesson for us.

We are to look at our hearts. Forget about form. God’s attention is fully centered on our hearts.

If you take a toothpaste tube written “Colgate”, although the tube is beautifully and ‘loudly’ adorned with all kinds of writings and drawings, yet you know full well that the “Colgate” (the toothpaste) is inside. You have to squeeze the tube to bring out the real stuff – the “Colgate” toothpaste.

In the same manner, God allows many circumstances into our lives to squeeze whatever is inside us out. Whatever we have inside of us is the life that we have in us, and that is what comes out when God brings people and situations to squeeze us. And so it is that when we have not the cross working in us, whenever we are squeezed we give out the “evil things” that Jesus stated here. These are the things that you will find in an un-crucified heart.

evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride foolishness”. (Mk. 7:21-22)

Jesus said,

“All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.” (v.23)

What troubles God, therefore, is not the food we eat but, rather, on the contrary, it is when we have these “evil things” in us. These things are the result of a disobedient heart, a heart that does not want to be circumcised. A Christian who does not want to crucify his/her life.

But when we are crucified with Christ, whenever a situation squeezes us, we give out the aroma of Christ.

God be praised for the Apostle Paul who could write,

“I am crucified with Christ”.

These are the most beautiful words ever! Whenever the Apostle Paul went through a situation, he left behind the aroma (the knowledge, the grace) of Christ. He did not leave behind the putrid stench of the flesh.

Like fighting for his rights, etc.

We are to crucify the flesh. We are to crucify the rights of the flesh. We are not just to understand the revelation of the cross as Paul and the other saints understood it; we are to get ahold of our flesh and actually crucify it. We will never really get anywhere in the Spirit until we do that. The Apostle Paul said,

“I am crucified with Christ”.

Paul was a man on the move.

[The Apostle Paul: a man on the move]

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Women In Ministry – Part 2

1 And it came to pass afterward, that he went throughout every city and village, preaching and showing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God: and the twelve were with him.

2 And certain women, which had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary called Magdalene, out of whom went seven devils,

3 And Joanna the wife of Chuza Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others, which ministered unto him of their substance.

4 And when much people were gathered together, and were come to him out of every city, he spake by a parable:

5 A sower went out to sow his seed… Lk. 8:5

The issue of women in ministry is a touchy one;  but the reason this issue is so delicate is because the spirit of the world has been allowed to enter the church; the ‘Beijing Conference’ spirit. People are jostling for position; everyone wants to be somebody. So we have to tread delicately because we are fearful of hurting people!

But we ought to leave those attitudes to the world. Women want equal rights, etc. That is for the world. In church it is different.

I pray that the Lord may give me grace in disseminating this subject. But I want to introduce two scriptures that will lay the foundation for what I believe is God’s order in the church.

The first scripture is 1 Corinthians 11:3. The Apostle Paul writes:

“But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.”

The word “head” in the Bible speaks of authority. God is fully sovereign. All power, dominion and authority is invested in Him. It is for this reason the Bible says that God sent His Son Jesus Christ to earth to accomplish His plan of salvation. God did not say to Jesus, “Ok, sonny, let’s throw the dice to see who goes”. No; God sent Jesus.

What did Jesus do?

He obeyed His Father.

Grasping these facts is pivotal in our understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Notice in the above scripture that there are three heads mentioned: God, Jesus, and the man. The woman is not mentioned with respect to the word “head”. That means she is not invested with authority in the church.

Moreover, the head of the woman is not Christ; it is the man.

Through this scripture, Paul was setting forth God’s order for the church. Each “head” of necessity has to have authority: God has authority, Jesus has authority; and the man has authority. Therefore the ministry gifts that Jesus gives are gifts of authority; and He gives them to the man, for the man of necessity must have authority. Jesus does not give them to the woman because the woman is not a “head”. Moreover, as we stated earlier, Jesus is not the head of the woman; the man is.

There can therefore be no women apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors or teachers in the sense that they have been ‘called’ by God (Jesus) into those ministries. Nor can they exercise the authority that is inherent in these ministries. God does not call a woman to a position of authority in the church.

That does not mean that God does not anoint women to teach or preach, or even to lead. What it means is simply that a woman cannot exercise authority in the Spirit. In the Spirit she always has to be under a “covering”, implying she always has to be under authority, the authority of the man, for that is the order that God has set forth.

There are women pastors today; women apostles, etc. That contradicts scripture, for those positions hold authority. How can a woman be a wife at home (submission) and be a pastor in church (authority)? It is a contradiction in terms; but, above all, it is contrary to the Word of God.

During His earthly ministry, Jesus did not give in to ‘political correctness’ and overstep God’s order by giving authority to a woman.

Jesus, who was obedient to His heavenly Father, has been invested with the authority to give the ministry gifts. Knowing God’s order fully, during His earthly ministry, Jesus gave His ministry gifts to men. And He did so because He is the head of the man. That was what Jesus did when He was here on earth; He gave gifts of authority to men, hence “the twelve” (apostles).

As it says in Matthew 10:2-4:

“Now the names of the twelve apostles are these; The first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip, and Bartholomew; Thomas, and Matthew the publican; James the son of Alphaeus, and Lebbaeus, whose surname was Thaddaeus; Simon the Canaanite, and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed him.”

Those are the names of the twelve apostles that Jesus set up for ministry. No woman is included in that list. It is clear, therefore, that, if Jesus did not set up women apostles, there can be no grounds for women apostles in the church today. And this goes for all ministry gifts that form the authority of Christ in the church.

Does that mean that Jesus was a chauvinistic male bigot? Does it mean that Jesus did not value women as He did men?

Hardly. On the contrary, Jesus was following God’s order. God is a God of order, not of confusion. In Timothy 1:23, the Apostle Paul reminds us a simple fact about God’s order of creation.

“For Adam was first formed, then Eve.”

There is order with God. We cannot be what we want to be. We can only be what God wants us to be. God alone is sovereign; and we are His subjects.

I have heard that in a certain tribe in a neighboring country, there was, long ago, a woman “chief” who used to sit on men as one sits on a stool. That culture of control continues to this day among the women of that particular tribe and it has brought untold grief to that community.

But there is order with God. Another un-politically correct man, the Apostle Paul, states:

“But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.” (1 Tim. 2:12)

I believe there were things happening in church that were out of order during the Apostle Paul’s time.

Finally, let us look at a scripture that captures the grace that is in God’s wonderful plan for both the man and the woman. The Apostle Paul, writing in Ephesians chapter 5 concerning the responsibilities of both the husband and the wife, exhorts both parties thus:

“Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it…” (v. 25); and

Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands…” (v. 22)

But it is the conclusion that blows us away. Paul concludes thus:

“This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.” (v. 32)

What exactly is Paul talking of in this and the preceding verses?

What he is saying is this: God has put two people in the world. He has put man to show the authority and love of Christ to His church; and He has put the woman to show the church’s obedience and submission to Christ.

What grace! When we see beyond our carnal understanding, it is something to be wondered and rejoiced at that God has made both the man and the woman equal heirs of His grace. Each complements the other.

The woman can teach and minister in different capacities in church; but always in submission to the man. That is God’s order in the Spirit.

[“… the head of the woman is the man”]

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The Cross, The Final Solution – Part 1

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,

9 And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith:

10 That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death;

11 If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. Phil. 3:7-11

It is verse 9 in particular that I want to focus on but, before we get there…

I have two stories to narrate, and these stories will form the backbone of the lesson that we want to learn today.

I was travelling in a bus recently when I overheard a lady seated behind me speaking on the phone. She said, “So-and-so is at our house.”

I thought, ‘Oh, how wonderful. They have a visitor.’

Then she said, “He has ran away from home again and he is now at our house.”

My heart broke. A young man had ran away from his home. For whatever reasons.

I arrived at my destination and, after narrating to my fellow pastor the sad tale I had overheard in the bus, it turned out he also had another harrowing story to tell. He told me that there was a lady, a neighbor of his, who had tried committing suicide on three different occasions upon learning that her husband was having an affair with another woman. This couple was very rich. The man had built a beautiful house where he lived with his wife and their two young children. But he had not only started an affair with another woman, but he had also built that woman a house in a different part of town. When his wife learned of it, she decided to kill herself. But on all three occasions either the overdose she took did not work properly, or someone had been around to help her.

When this pastor heard this story, he strengthened himself and, even though the couple are Muslim, he decided to pay the lady a visit. When he arrived, she stated that what he had heard was true. She also added that she was preparing for one final attempt at killing herself and this time she was planning to kill herself together with her two young children.

Upon hearing this, the pastor knew there was no other way. There was no time for him to talk to her about waiting for her husband to change. She was too far gone for that. There was only one way out. He had to talk to her about Jesus Christ… Christ, and Him crucified.

The gist of what this pastor spoke to this lady, and what happened after, is what I am going to share here.

[In the drier central parts of Tanzania, sunflower farming is one of the major sources of income]

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Sharing Christ’s Riches

27 And Jesus looking upon them saith, With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible.

28 Then Peter began to say unto him, Lo, we have left all, and have followed thee.

29 And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel’s,

30 But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life.

31 But many that are first shall be last; and the last first. Mk. 10:28-31

If you think that anything that Jesus said was easy, you better begin scratching those grey cells again. Although He was on the earth, yet Jesus always spoke as God. Which means He spoke nothing less than perfect perfection. He was so far-sighted we have to die first to begin seeing the things that Jesus saw in the Spirit. Nothing Jesus said was of this world, which means nothing He said was easy. But, thank God, He also said,

“with God all things are possible.” (Mt. 19:26)

We ought to be eternally grateful to God for giving us His Holy Spirit who enables us to do God’s will in its perfection.

There are many believers today who interpret the above scriptures to suit their own lusts. They say, “Lord, I claim (or, Lord give me) a hundredfold this and that according to your Word in Mark 10:30”.

But Jesus was not speaking in that vein. He was not speaking about you or me in the way we are used to. On the contrary, Jesus was speaking about the church. The church is where everyone, including me, dies. We die to our selves – and live for others.

The early church arrived at that spot. This was because they were fully filled with the Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit is given full reign in our lives, we can live God’s heavenly Kungdom right here on earth.

And so, the more we give ourselves to the Holy Spirit, the closer we get to that hallowed spot, where we can truly give rather than receive, of which the Lord Jesus Himself said,

“It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35)

Although I live in Africa, I have brothers and sisters and mothers and lands and houses all over the world. I have them in North America, I have them in Asia, I have them in Europe, in Australia and New Zealand. I even have them in the Middle East. If I go to any of these true brothers’ and sisters’ homes, whatever they have is mine. They would not say that I could not fully share in anything that was theirs.

Where the power of the Holy Spirit is, nothing is impossible. In today’s world, for example, the world is getting steadily polarised – especially between blacks and whites. But, in the Spirit, the church is getting more and more united. God’s people are coming together as one as the Holy Spirit readies the Bride of Christ for His soon return.

If you are thinking in terms of I, me and myself – the doctrine of receiving – then you have absolutely no idea of the church that Christ is building. In this church, we are here to give, not receive. That is why Jesus said,

“…with persecutions”.

We are to have the mind of Christ who, although He was God, and although He was rich, chose to forgo those rights for our sakes.

The Bible also says:

“27 For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:27-28)

Colossians 3:10-11 basically says the same thing.

“10 And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him: 11 Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all.”

The riches of Christ – both the heavenly and the worldly – are all ours to share . When we have been blessed with the mind of Christ, it is easy for us to give our all. Here there is no poor or rich. Even the poor has something to give, because he has the heart of Christ. And, more importantly, he will not go to church to look for his own gain. He will go to give his life even as the rich man has gone to church to give of his life.

Finally, on the part concerning eternal life, that’s where we need to be super careful. This was where Jesus said,

But many that are first shall be last; and the last first.”

Freedom In Christ – Part 1

13 But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.

14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. 1 The. 4:13-14

Oh, the liberty that the gospel brings!

One of the things that money cannot buy in this world is reprieve from sorrow. And, without a doubt, one of the most painful sorrows that affects us here on earth is the loss of a loved one. Imagine the pain that death brings to those who are left behind by the passing away of a loved one. It affects us in our deepest parts. It is bad enough when it is an ordinary death but, in today’s violent and unpredictable world in particular, death sometimes is attended with terror, pain, suddenness and a host of other additional calamities that make it all the more difficult for the deceased’s relatives to bear. I cannot imagine the pain that the violence that accompanies so many deaths in a place like the U.S. city of Chicago, for example, causes to those left behind. It is estimated that every day, 12 people are shot dead in Chicago.

It is in this light that we can better appreciate the Apostle Paul’s words here. This scripture makes it clear that people ignore Christ at their own spiritual peril. It is in Christ that both the dead and the living can enjoy this liberty. What Paul says in essence here is that when we lose a brother or sister in Christ there is no sense of loss on our part! The brother or sister is simply sleeping, he says! Who would mourn a person who was only sleeping?

What a blessing, to be set free from such incredible pain! Imagine being set free from the many bondages and hurts that death brings! It is an incredible thought.

But these things, though hard to comprehend, are true in the Spirit. Remember when Jesus was told that His friend Lazarus had died. Jesus did not break out wailing. He simply told His disicples:

“Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep.” (Jn. 11:11)

Jesus said this because He was the resurrection and the life. He did, in fact, raise Lazarus from the dead.

Today, Jesus is still the resurrection and the life, and He will remain so unto eternity. We may grieve for a brother or sister who has died in the Lord in the short term, but that is due to our human weakness. In truth, however, that person has gone to a far better place – to be with the Lord.

This realization affords us incredible freedom – freedom from sorrow. And sorrow is one of our greatest enemies. Sorrow can hit us where nothing else can.

The words of our Lord Jesus Christ in John 8:36 ring out true and clear when held in this perspective.

“If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.”

[Below: Women mourning at a funeral in rural Singida]

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Dead Or Half-Dead? Part 2

17 And when he was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?

18 And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God.

19 Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother.

20 And he answered and said unto him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth.

21 Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.

22 And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions. Mk. 10:17-21

We saw in the first part of this post that Jesus loved this man; but it is his soul, or spirit, that Jesus loved. He did not love him in the natural, carnal way that we are accustomed to. It is for this reason that the prosperity preacher got it right in one way when he said God wants us to prosper in our spirits. But the gospel is about one thing only and we cannot bring in a concoction of eveything else and claim it is the gospel.

For now, let me tell you a story, the story from which I got the title for this post. This is a true story.

There are some communities in my country that eat donkeys. Yes, they eat donkeys just like you and I eat beef. One of these communities are even my neighbors. Actually, the incident I am about to narrate took place not too far from where I live.

Now, donkeys are not in as much supply as cattle anywhere in the world and with the voracity with which these tribesmen were consuming this particular delicacy, the government soon awoke to the fact that before long there would be no donkeys in this country. So one day the prime minister of that time decided to pay one of these communities a visit, and as chance would have it, he chose to visit my next-door neighbors. He came with a large contingent of government ministers because most people require to see big government for any point to sink in. Flanked by top government officials, the prime minister in effect banned the wholesale slaughter of donkeys that was going on in that community. The people agreed to the ban and the slaughter ended there. But the truce was only temporary. Now, hardly three years or so down the path, the slaughter has started all over again. Obviously, these people’s appetite for their favorite “beef” is too overpowering.

Anyways, on the particular day that I am recounting of here, some men were slaughtering a donkey. The man handling the machete had slit the throat completely, but the donkey is a very powerful animal and in order to kill it, you need to cut the neck vertebrae also. The man was about to do this when the donkey, in the initial stages of its death throes, gave out a kick that was so violent that it threw the men holding him down completely off balance. They let go and that is when the impossible happened. The donkey got up on its four legs and began running about, with its head swinging from its neck!

It was an incredibly horrific and gruesome sight. Blood and gore was spattering all over the place as the animal banged itself about. People scattered. Unable to really make a run for it, the donkey kept running around in ever-tightening circles until it tired itself out and fell to the ground with a thud.

It was a sight to turn your stomach.

I have brought this story up because I thought it was so apt a description of what happens when a believer fails to allow the cross to have its way in their lives. A believer without the cross is a believer who does not have the death of Christ working in them. And this is the greatest tragedy in Christianity.

Had the donkey allowed itself to die peacefully, he would not have created so much inconvenience for himself and for the people handling him. We create all kinds of havoc in the Spirit when we refuse to accept to die to our carnal ways.

Moreover, the life of Christ is sadly lacking in such a life.

But, really, who can willingly allow themselves to be slaughtered without making a fuss? Obviously, this rich man was not able to.

Well, Jesus did. Jesus Himself stated:

“17 Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. 18 No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father.” (Jn. 10:17-18)

But scripture goes beyond that and states that Jesus was slaughtered even before the foundations of the world were laid (1 Pet. 1:19-20). That fact alone is central to our calling as believers.

Moreover, Isaiah 53:7 says that as Jesus was being slaughtered, He opened not His mouth.

“He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.”

You can be taken down to the slaughterhouse and, like this rich man, not allow yourself to die. He was a wonderful man, full of zeal for the Lord. But he was spiritually deficient in that he had no revelation of the cross in his life. When Jesus therefore began to tell him to deny himself, he stumbled at this word. He did not allow God’s machete to go far enough, and he stumbled away from the scene of the slaughter, wounded but not dead. The Bible states that he

“went away grieved: for he had great possessions.” (v.22).

The man had tempered himself since his youth… for nothing.

What a sad commentary on this young man’s life! But this is the same sad commentary that is written of our lives when we fail to take up the cross. When the cross is absent in our lives, we are still short of the Kingdom of God despite all our religiosity. Something needed to die in this young man. He needed to have his neck vertebrae cut. And so do we.

[Below: Deep in central Tanzania, I found the most picturesque bathroom!]

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Patience In Suffering

18 Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward.

19 For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully.

20 For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God.

21 For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps:

22 Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth:

23 Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously:

24 Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.

25 For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls. 1 Pet. 2:18-25

The Swahili version of verse 19 reads: “For this is true goodness, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully.”

There it is, just in case you were wondering at the exact meaning of the word “thankworthy” in this verse. In other words, there is what we could call ordinary goodness; and there is true goodness. Ordinary goodness is the goodness that responds only to like goodness but cannot endure opposition to self. This goodness is of our carnal nature and it does not please God for it does not respond well to Christian suffering.

True goodness can only be of God. That means that the bar for true goodness is set very high. Remember the girl in Philippi who had a spirit of divination in her and who followed Paul and his team and proclaimed after them:

“These men are the servants of the most high God, which shew unto us the way of salvation” (Acts 16:17)?

Our God is the Most High God and his standards are equally high. True goodness cannot therefore be the feel-good stuff that our flesh craves. As a matter of fact, true goodness can only be something that the flesh detests, and which it desires to run away from.

In the world, our hearts automatically warm towards those who will us no ill. But when we meet people who would do us harm, we close our hearts. It is the easiest thing, even in church, to align ourselves with the people whose hearts are open to us. But we tend to close our hearts to those people who will not open their hearts to us, or to those who criticize and torment or persecute us. And if this is the case in the church, how much more so when this suffering comes from the world? The Apostle Peter here puts his finger on what is probably the most difficult thing for a believer to do: to suffer wrong patiently and to maintain a pure heart when in that situation.

Notice, again, “… but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God.”

The word “acceptable” here again attests to the high standards of God. “Acceptable” means what is right with or pleasing to God. If it was me, what Peter describes here is not what would be acceptable with me. But this is what is acceptable with God.

On the flip side, it means that if we suffer when we do well and are unable to take that suffering “patiently”, this is not acceptable with God. We have a long way to go in pleasing God!

But the Apostle Peter gives us the example of Christ Himself. Christ endured suffering from sinners, although He Himself was sinless! In that way, Christ did that which was acceptable with God. But even more so, the Bible tells us, it was through this endurance that Christ became the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls.

If we are selfish, we cannot take evil, and for that reason can never be of value to anyone from God’s perspective. Jesus said,

“24 Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. 25 He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal.” (Jn. 12:24-25)

Hence the need for the revelation of the cross in our lives, where “Christ crucified” becomes the foundation of our Christian lives. It is only through a crucified life that we can live this kind of life, the life that pleases God.

[In the midst of suffering may it be well, Lord, with my soul.]