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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Of Pilgrimages To Israel

24 But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came.

25 The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.

26 And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you.

27 Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing.

28 And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God.

29 Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed. Jn. 20:24-29

Recently, a brother came to me and he wanted to know whether there is any spiritual merit in one visiting the land of Israel.

“Absolutely none”, I told him. “You might as well walk up to that tree and back”, I said, showing him an old, gnarled tree standing nearby.

The man then went on to tell me about how he had once visited a church and there he overheard a preacher talking about how he had made a pilgrimage to Israel and claiming that, while there, he had been baptized in the River Jordan. Upon which the congregation went into a frenzy of cheering and assorted melodrama.

“I have never been to Israel”, I told the brother. “But, according to what I have read in the Bible, the Jordan is not a particularly clean river (2 Kings 5:12). That man went into a whole lot of trouble for nothing.”

Ours is a walk of faith. It has nothing to do with this physical or material world. We are called to behold the spiritual, not the physical. In Galatians 6:15 the Apostle Paul writes:

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

Making a pilgrimage to Israel does not make one “a new creature”. On the contrary, it is the equivalent of the circumcision of which the Apostle Paul writes here that it avails nothing. Visiting Israel makes no one spiritual. Walking the streets where Jesus walked might get up all the goose bumps in you, but it will not make you spiritual. Much less getting baptized in the River Jordan.

What makes us spiritual is when we get the revelation of the cross of Jesus Christ in our hearts. Becoming a man or woman of the Spirit is a spiritual journey, not a physical one.

But preachers today have discovered the spiritual blindness of believers and they are exploiting it to the max. They are not only making pilgrimages to Israel but they are going even further than that. They are bringing back purported spiritual artefacts from the holy land and selling them to believers back home: today there is “holy” water, “holy” oil, “holy” sand and nearly “holy” anything being shipped back from Israel to Africa to be sold at exorbitant prices to unsuspecting believers.

Christians, on the other hand, want things that can be seen, not believed for. It is easier to believe that “holy” oil from Israel can work a greater miracle than the unseen anointing of the Holy Spirit. People believe all kinds of things; but these same people find it very difficult to believe in the simplicity of scripture. But our faith is not built on Israel. It is built on the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross. That is what we should desire to see more. There, we will discover the true power and the true wisdom of God, which is the power to crucify our flesh and to allow Christ to dwell in us.

I will be talking more about this in my next post. For now, Adieu, and may the Lord bless you.

[When David killed Goliath, he was in the Spirit]

The 5-Fold Ministry: Benjamin, or Joseph’s Half-brothers?

And he took and sent messes unto them from before him: but Benjamin’s mess was five times so much as any of theirs. And they drank, and were merry with him. Gen 43:34

Notice that Benjamin was given five times as many portions of food as his other brothers were given by Joseph. That is truly spiritual language!

Let us also consider Genesis 45:22: “To all of them he gave each man changes of raiment; but to Benjamin he gave three hundred pieces of silver, and five changes of raiment.” Here again, Joseph gave gifts to his brothers (whom I deliberately call half-brothers), but the Bible takes the pain to tell us that Joseph gave to Benjamin “three hundred pieces of silver, and five changes of raiment.”

Benjamin was Joseph’s true brother, born of the same mother, Rachel. Joseph’s actions in both these scriptures demonstrated his love for Benjamin. Joseph loved his other brothers also, but he loved Benjamin infinitely more. He therefore favoured him far above his brethren, and gave him gifts of far greater worth than the rest of his brethren.

While Joseph is a type of Christ, Benjamin is a type of the church, and the number “five” in both these scriptures speaks of the five-fold ministry – the apostle, the prophet, the evangelist, the pastor and the teacher. Christ’s love for the church is revealed in that He gave these five ministries to the church. The riches and privileges that Christ has for the church that are to be found in the operation of all these ministries, working together as a team within the church. The incredibly rich treasures that Christ has given to His church through the operation of these ministries are, simply, indescribable. The five-fold ministry is packed!

If Jesus had not intended for all these ministries to operate within the church in their totality, He would have given one, or two, or three. But He gave five.

That can only mean that when we talk of these ministries we must talk of them as one ministry. Hence, the five-fold ministry. The reference is right and true.

There is no place for the lone wolf ministry within the Body of Christ.

In Ephesians 3:14-21, the Apostle Paul makes a prayer for the Ephesian church. But notice that the apostle’s prayer that the Ephesians “might be filled with all the fulness of God” (v. 19) is directly linked to the operation of the five-fold ministry in their midst (Ephesians 4).

God’s intended goal for the church is for it to walk in “the fulness of God”, no less. And, pray, what is “the fulness of God”? It is that God’s people may mature in the Spirit, unto perfect men and women in Christ. The church can only be perfected through circumcising of our hearts and putting to death all the works of the flesh in our lives. It is a deep work of the Spirit, which can only be brought about by the revelation of the cross in our hearts. That is“the fulness of God”!

This revelation is something that only the five-fold ministry can accomplish (Eph. 3:1-12).

The five-fold ministry talks of teamwork. These five ministries – undergirded by the foundational ministry of the apostle – form a team. For Christ’s goal for the church to be realized these ministries must work as a team.

Today, much of what we see of God’s church are disembodied ‘ministries’ and denominations scattered all over the spiritual landscape. People think this is God’s plan for the church, and they cheer these ministries on. But no, that is not the church and we should stop cheering. Just from reading this scripture, we can tell that the concept of “church” without the five-fold ministry –working as a team – is simply not there. That word, “church”, is out of order where the five-fold ministry is not operational.

Single ministries, however ‘powerful’ are simply not God’s plan for the church. God is gracious and merciful and He will bless us here and there, in small ways and in big ways. There are many ways in which God could and does bless us. According to His magnanimous nature, therefore, God allows these single ministries to be there and to do a thing or two. But whatever these lone ministries do will never come close to the fullness of what God has for the church.

Any one ministry is a blessing to the church. But when the church is operating under a single ministry – be it a prophet, a pastor, or even an apostle – and not within the totality of the five-fold ministry, it in effect becomes like one of Joseph’s half-brothers, receiving piece-meal portions. Did Joseph’s brothers rejoice at his gifts? They did, of course! The gifts were big! But what they received was nothing compared to what Benjamin received. He received five portions – “the fulness of God”!

It is sad – and a shame – that men start ministries or churches which they turn into their own property. They establish personal ‘church dynasties’, where they operate their ministries single-handedly and after they move on they hand their ministries to their sons and grandsons. It is a vicious cycle designed to keep out the vitality of the Holy Spirit to touch people’s lives through allowing the five-fold ministry to operate within the church.

Christ loves His people. But if they will not allow the five-fold ministry to minister to them, there is no way He can perfect them and therefore God’s people will forever remain babes in the spirit. They will never mature spiritually. They will rejoice at the solitary “portions” that are handed to them – material needs, healing, lone ministries operating here and there – but they will never know the deep riches that Christ has for His church, the working of the cross in their lives to mature them, to perfect them, and to unite them in the Spirit. This is something that God’s people need to seriously desire in their lives.

We could say that the church’s sole calling is to operate under the five-fold ministry (Col. 1:24-29).

On their part, God’s servants need to seek for a revelation of the cross in their own lives so that they can humble themselves and see their need to seek other true ministries with which they can unite together to build the Body of Christ.

[Below: Sunsets are incredibly beautiful. Here, the sun sets in Dar es Salaam]

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Faith Worketh by Grace – Part 3

[Genesis chapter 17]

We now conclude this series.

In Galatians 4:28 the Bible says that Isaac was the son of promise. Isaac was not given Abraham in the flesh. He was not born so Abraham would have that good old feeling as Isaac played on his lap. On the contrary, he was someone through whom God would fully accomplish His eternal purpose of salvation. That is why the Bible says “in Isaac shall thy seed be called” (Rom. 9:7). Isaac was a spiritual entity. In him was the fullness of God’s plan.

So therefore just before he was to receive this spiritual gift, Abraham was required by God to be perfect.

The seal of the perfection that Abraham was expected to carry was circumcision, the cutting off of the outer skin of his manhood. The Bible says, “This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised. And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you.” Verse 10-11

In other words God told Abraham, “You shall cut off your foreskin! I don’t want to see it on you. This is how I will fulfill my covenant with you.”

And Abraham – amazing Abraham – immediately got to work in obeying God’s command. The Bible shows us the wonder of the zeal that Abraham had:

“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.

In the selfsame day was Abraham circumcised, and Ishmael his son.

And all the men of his house, born in the house, and bought with money of the stranger, were circumcised with him.” (Gen. 17:22-27)

We see that with Abraham a stripping of the flesh had to take place for him to be perfected. We can therefore conclude that what perfects a man is the putting away of the body of flesh, which is the carnal nature in us that minds the things that please the flesh. To the spiritual man this nature is like a cancerous tissue. There is only one way to deal with it: it has to be cut away.

But again this cancerous tissue is our very life! Which reduces the options to just one: we have to die. That carnal nature has to go, by whatever means. The Holy Spirit comes and works deeply in us to do away with the old man. It is a spiritual surgery. That is why the Bible links our glorification to the sufferings and death of Christ. (Rom. 8:17)

When we are thus perfected, we can walk in the fullness of the revelation of the Spirit. More importantly, we shall arrive at our total union and glorification with Christ, which is the final objective in the call that God has placed upon our lives. (Rom. 8:30)

The flesh was something that troubled the Apostle Paul greatly. He says in Romans 7:18, “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing.”

I am sure we can identify with Paul here. He was at a loss what to do. In verse 24 he laments, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?”

But we thank God that Paul found the answer. The answer lay in Jesus Christ, and Him crucified! And this is exactly what God revealed to Paul – the cross. In Galatians 6:14 Paul affirms this when he says, “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.”

We could say that just as God appeared to Abraham and talked to him about circumcision, in the same way He appeared to Paul and showed him the cross. Just as He told Abraham to circumcise himself, He also told Paul, “Crucify your flesh!” Paul found the answer to his dilemma in the identification of his life with the sufferings and death of Christ.

And Paul, like Abraham, was zealous to identify his life with the sufferings of Christ. At one time he told those who would prevent him from going to face persecution in Jerusalem, “What mean ye to weep and to break mine heart? for I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” Acts 21:13

That doesn’t sound like someone whom God is pulling around with a noose tied around his neck! Paul was a free man, serving His God in freedom.

In 1 Corinthians 12:10 he writes, “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.”

Paul had found the secret to partaking of the riches of God’s grace: it was through partaking of the sufferings of Christ. He says, “I am strong!” He is talking of the inner man.

At the cross we not only find salvation, but we find the grace –the joy and willingness – to share in the sufferings and death of Christ, that the new man of the Spirit may resurrect in us to enable us to walk in newness of life. This new man is he who can walk in victory over sin, the world and the devil. He is packed with heavenly wisdom because he daily crucifies his flesh.

Abraham and Paul are no men of mean reputation in the Spirit, and we should strive to emulate their faith. These were men who got a revelation of God’s grace, and they rested their faith in that grace. They were thus able to obey God in a way that pleased God.

Today we find much law in church. There is too much “Do this”, “Do that”, “You must not do that!”  etc. The church is led by principles and “steps” (’10 Steps to doing this and that’)… It is a sort of formal education, and worldly wisdom takes over.

There is also judgment and condemnation. People fear to make mistakes. God’s people are not led to the strait and narrow road where the Holy Spirit would set them free to serve God in freedom.

As a result, the church has become a prison of sorts; people are stifled and bound in sin, and they are dying.

When God’s people get a revelation of God’s grace and begin to walk in freedom, God is able to fulfill His covenant with His people, and to reveal the riches of His grace in their lives. If the church today were to open their hearts to the revelation of the cross that God is bringing to us today, we would find in our hearts the faith and obedience that the patriarchs, the apostles, and the Early Church had, and we would surely show to the world the riches of the wisdom that God has invested in us.

Abraham’s Instant Obedience – Part 1

And God said unto Abraham… ‘This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised.’ 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. Genesis 17:9-10, 23 (Emphasis mine. Please read also Genesis 12:1-4;  21:9-14 and 22:1-3).

We live in a world of instant everything. It began with Instant coffee, but now there is instant internet, instant laundry, instant chicken (I hate it!), instant everything!

Well, how about instant obedience?

What strikes me most in the life of Abraham is the alacrity at which he answered or responded to any instruction that the Lord gave to him. (Another word for alacrity would be ‘swiftness’, or ‘speedy’). The minute God told Abraham to do something, the man immediately and swiftly moved to execute it.

Have you wondered how we often struggle to do the things that the Lord requires of us? And I am talking deep here. I am talking about when God talks to us about the things of our hearts. When He says, “Forgive that sister” or, “Let go that bitterness” or, “Release so-and-so or such-and-such a situation from your heart” or “Rise up and go and ask forgiveness from that brother” or, “Swallow your pride and admit you are wrong there”.

God does not say “Do it right now”, because He is not a dictator; He just shows us the direction we should take then leaves the rest for us to accomplish according to the readiness of our hearts.

And these very attitudes are the ones blocking us from living a victorious Christian life. Oh, that we would release them instantly! We would be free men and women.

That is what makes Abraham such a great man. Abraham obeyed God instantly. If we want to arrive at the stature of Abraham, let us not waste time trying to crank up enough faith to own the herds of camels or the gold that he owned. God is simply not there. God is no longer in those things. God is in our hearts. I know I am going really deep now, but I must.

When the Bible talks about Abraham, the father of faith, it is no joking matter. You see, there are people who think of Abraham’s faith in terms of the herds of camels and the caskets of gold that he had! But I can assure you that in order for Abraham to earn the title ‘Father of faith’, it had to go deeper than his skin. It had to touch on the condition of his heart.

Remember God told the Prophet Samuel, “I look upon the heart”. People think so many things about God. But our God is a God of the heart. Abraham knew this and he therefore served God with his heart.

What does it mean to say that Abraham served God with his heart? It means that he was tested in the very things that we are tested in, the things of our hearts. And the very word circumcision here talks of the heart. We might not realize it, but Abraham got circumcised in his heart. That was the only way he could please God.

Anybody can jump up and have themselves immediately circumcised in their flesh if it suits their needs. But Abraham lived for God and this required him to be tested in the very things that we, too, are being tested in today. He had to have his heart tested.

But Abraham went beyond there. He did not just say, “OK, Lord, I am willing to obey You”, no; he ran to obey God. He prepared his heart to be ready to respond to God’s call “at the click of a button”!

You see, you can have religion up to your nose and still be a rebel. You can memorize the entire Bible forwards and backwards, but you still might not be speedy in obeying God. In other words, in order for us to be considered men or women of faith, God is interested with the speed at which we move to obey Him.

Leaders and pastors particularly have a problem here.

Can you imagine this grown man (God began dealing with Abraham when he was 75 years old), can you picture such a man trotting like a small boy as he ran to obey God? Can you picture Abraham every day looking into his heart and praying David’s prayer, “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Psa 139:23-24

As a result of his obedience to God, Abraham developed a unique character. You won’t find many people like Abraham today.

He told Lot, Is not the whole land before thee? separate thyself, I pray thee, from me: if thou wilt take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or if thou depart to the right hand, then I will go to the left.” Gen 13:9

And all the land was legally Abraham’s! That is not for many of the Christians that I know of today!

The Foundation of our Faith – the Pauline Doctrine (Pt. 4)

We are now in chapter 4 and any intrepid reader who is still following my ramblings must be wondering whether I am lost…. Well, I am not, and in fact I will be finishing in the next post. I just want to fill in the gaps, a job I am not sure I am doing too well. Nonetheless, I am trusting the Lord every step of the way. And let me thank each one of you individually for your love and patience, and for your encouragement.

In this chapter we will look at how Paul’s gospel was ‘different’ from the other Apostles’ gospel and what the implications of this are for us today.

Trouble for the gospel began early enough, in fact right after the birth of the Early Church in Jerusalem. The Bible says: “And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration.” Act 6:1 Lines were drawn within the Church of Christ ! But the Apostles handled it swiftly and wisely, choosing spiritually mature men to oversee the “serving of tables”.

But another disturbing scenario crops up not long afterwards. In Acts 11:19 we are told that after Saul’s persecution of the Church began at Jerusalem, the believers who fled to the diaspora preached the gospel all right but “unto the Jews only.” Demarcation lines were drawn once again, by believers. Clearly, the Jerusalem Church had a problem understanding the universal nature of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Soon it was time for the Apostles themselves to be tested. Although Peter knew and understood what the Scriptures said about salvation for the Gentiles (Acts 10:43), yet when God wanted to send him to take the gospel to Cornelius – and, by extension, to the Gentiles – we see in Acts chapter 10 that the Lord Himself had to appear to him in a vision in order to persuade him to accept the truth that salvation was for the Gentiles also!

(After he had preached to them the gospel, God promptly confirmed His acceptance of them by pouring upon them His Holy Spirit.)

When news of the fact that Peter had entered a Gentile home reached the Apostles at Jerusalem, they summoned him before them to explain why he had “crossed the boundary”. After Peter explained to them that it was God and not him, the Bible says “When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.” (Act 11:18)

After reading the above Scripture, and hearing Peter’s proclamati0ns you would think that the Apostles were in full agreement with God about accepting the Gentiles as equal heirs with them of the Kingdom of God. But you will be surprised at what happened later, as we read in Galatians 2:12-13:  “For before that certain came from James, (Peter) did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision. And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation.”

The Bible here is saying that Peter feared a delegation that was coming from James, the leader of the Jerusalem church. Why? Because they would do him in for consorting with uncircumcised Gentiles.  In other words, in spite of what they knew from Scripture and from Peter’s experience with Cornelius these Jews were not ready to accept any stranger in their midst merely on the supposition of grace. For them keeping the Law of Moses was paramount!

In short, it was like this: the Apostles had received the gospel all right, but at heart they were still Torah hardliners!

I want us to look at one last scene before we get done with this chapter. When Paul went to Jerusalem on his final journey, his host, the Apostle James  together with the other elders met him and told him, “Thou seest, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are which believe; and they are all zealous of the law:” (Act 21:20) In other words, even though the gospel of salvation by faith in Jesus Christ had been preached in Jerusalem for a long time and many Jews had accepted Jesus into their hearts the fact of salvation by grace without works was proving to be a thorn in the flesh for many of them.

But if the Apostles themselves had a problem with this truth, as we have seen, they most likely would have been preaching a gospel tainted with law and it is no wonder, therefore, that Jerusalem was crawling with samurai-wielding believers!

And it was not only in Jerusalem. The Jews were creating havoc wherever the Word of salvation reached out to people, even amongst the Gentiles.

And here you have the basic difference between Paul and the Apostles at Jerusalem. You see, right from the beginning Paul never had any problem accepting what the Lord had revealed to him about salvation being for every man who believed on the Lord Jesus, Jew or Greek, and that it was by grace and grace alone.

Paul understood grace perfectly well. The Apostles at Jerusalem were limited in their understanding of it.

Many years later, after more light had entered Peter’s heart, he would affirm to the Church that the Apostle Paul received far greater “wisdom” than what he and his compatriots received from the Lord (2 Peter 3:15). Peter here was not talking about intellectual or human wisdom. The Bible never refers to human intellect because God is spirit. I am sure Peter was talking about the grace that Paul received from the Lord, and the power that came with that grace to not only bring salvation to both Jews and Gentiles, men and women, high and low, but to also set them free from the power of the flesh and to perfect them in the image of Christ.

We conclude in the next post!