The Apostle And Unity In The Church – Part 1

Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God… Rom. 1:1

I often joke with my family. I tell them, “I am the most important person in this family. In fact, I am so important I don’t need to do anything else apart from just being about. My presence alone here is work enough!”

That might be me joking; but the position of fatherhood within the family is more important than we think. A household without a father is like a body without a head. It is uncontrollable. The father is the authority figure in the house. A household that has no father has very little authority – and, hence, little order or discipline – in it. This is by no means a love-less attack on single families, no. But we must uphold God’s truth despite the odds we encounter in this life, for God is in heaven.

The scenario I have just described above concerning the family is the same with the church. In the same way that the father is of paramount importance in the house, the ministry of the apostle is the most important ministry in the church. For this reason, the Apostle Paul writes:

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

Why is this ministry paramount in the church? It is because this ministry is it that establishes the fatherhood of God in the church. The church is a household; and as we just saw there is no household without a father. The Bible talks of

“14 … the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named” (Eph. 3:14-15).

In this scripture, the Swahili Bible substitutes the word “family” with “fatherhood”.

There are therefore fathers, and we cannot all be fathers. We thank God that we have a Father, God Himself. But God, through His manifold wisdom, has in Jesus Christ placed in the church men to represent Him in the office of fatherhood. These men are called apostles. Notice it is men, not women. There are no women in the 5-fold ministry. Women can work in other offices in the church, but not in the 5-fold ministry. Jesus set the precedent to this during His earthly ministry. There were no women among the 12 apostles that He chose.

The reason for this separation is because the 5 ministries encapsulated in the 5-fold ministry are ministries of authority; they represent the authority of God. Now, the Bible forbids a woman from exercising authority over a man (1 Tim. 2:12). God could not therefore break his own rule by allowing women into the positions of authority that the 5 ministries of the apostle, prophet, pastor, evangelist and teacher carry.

This representation of God’s authority by men working on behalf of God, is evident in Ephesians 4:11-13, where Paul writes:

“11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; 12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: 13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ”.

When these ministries are in the church, the church can therefore become a true spiritual household. There is no longer any carnal independence because the church is now a family and each person is subject to one another in the fear of God. And the authority of God can be felt by God’s people because the father – the apostle – is there. This authority disciplines us to become true spiritual children, walking in the righteousness of God. This, in turn, creates the bond of unity that makes the church to become a body, the Body of Christ.

Today, the church is there all right; but it is a different church than the one God intended. There is little discipline in the church, and it is deeply fragmented because there is no authority. Today, any man can arise and do whatever seems right in their own eyes, all in the name of the Lord. There is no one to point the way; or to put a “STOP” sign where one is needed.

So, who is the apostle? Is it any man who declares himself to be one?

By no means, no. The apostle does not just declare himself to be an apostle. On the contrary, he is declared to be an apostle both by the ministry he carries of revealing the cross of Jesus Christ. This means he reveals the crucified Christ. And, pray, how does he do that? He does so by allowing the cross to work in his own life. This fact is of primary importance. The apostle is a man whose life has been crucified with Christ; he no longer has a life of his own. Rather, he is a bond-slave of Christ in the Spirit.

Secondly, he preaches no other gospel other than the gospel of the cross.

That was how Paul and the other apostles were declared to be apostles. Firstly, Paul states in 1 Cor. 1:22-23,

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

Today, the most important preacher is the miracle-worker. Not so in Paul’s day, as is so clear in his words above.

Secondly, Paul show us something else that is of even greater importance. In 1 Cor 2:2 he declares:

“For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.”

When he says “I determined not to know” he is talking, not just about his preaching, but his lifestyle also. Paul lived a crucified life among the Corinthians and through his life that was crucified with Christ he revealed the power of the cross to the church. He revealed the power of the cross in his life first!

There are many apostles today; but there were many apostles also during the Apostle Paul’s ministry. But there was a basic difference between Paul and these other men. In 2 Cor. 11:13 he writes:

“For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ.”

Many of today’s apostles are exactly as Paul describes those of his time. They are false apostles. Why? Because they do not live the crucified life. They cannot reveal Christ because they have no revelation of Christ in them. Rather, they have a ‘revelation’ of the flesh. They live for and serve the flesh. Chief among these are the prosperity preachers.

But Paul had a revelation of Christ in his life. His life is a testimony to that. Let us take time to read Paul’s defense of his apostleship.

“23 Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. 24 Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. 25 Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; 26 In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; 27 In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. 28 Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is offended, and I burn not? 30 If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things which concern mine infirmities.” (2 Cor. 11:23-30)

That is the testimony of a man who has seen the crucified Christ in his spirit. Any other ‘revelation’ will produce something else.

For a lack of a father, therefore, the church today is fragmented. There is little discipline, order, love or unity within the church. In fact, we have gone to the extent that we glory in the non-existence of these things. We rejoice in our divisions, feeling proud of our denominations or groupings somehow thinking we had a monopoly with God.

So what’s the answer to this problem?

The answer is simple. The church must recognize and allow the true ministry of the apostle within its ranks. It must relinquish the position of the father to the true church fathers – men who have a revelation of the crucified Christ in their hearts and who manifest this revelation through living a life that is crucified with Christ, just as we have seen the Apostle Paul had. These men may be few, and few indeed they must be. But they are there even now, lurking somewhere in the background, just as John the Baptist told the Jews:

“26 John answered them, saying, I baptize with water: but there standeth one among you, whom ye know not; 27 He it is, who coming after me is preferred before me, whose shoe’s latchet I am not worthy to unloose.” (Jn. 1:26-27)

They are unknown, yes. Yet, when our spiritual eyes are open and we see what we as the church need (and what we do not need), we will turn and we will see them. And when these ministries have been given their rightful place in the church, then true spiritual healing and growth will come into the church, and the church will be a true abode of God, bringing joy to His heart as He beholds her order and righteousness.

[The Great Rift Valley]

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The Apostolic Message (Part 2)

8 But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.

9 As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed. Gal. 1:8-9

Again, here, before we talk about the apostle and his message, let me state what an apostle is not. There are many things that a true apostle of Jesus Christ is not. But for fear of getting bogged down with these explanations, I will cut through to the heart of the matter and mention the two most important things that an apostle is not, beginning with number two.

The secondary explanation of what an apostle is not is that an apostle is not a person who peddles the Word of God for monetary or any other worldly gain – fame, position, etc.

In 2 Cor. 2:17 the Apostle Paul writes, For we are not as many, which corrupt the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ.”

‘Corruption’ here means to twist, or to dilute the Word of God for carnal gain.

Now, unless you are an alien just dropped in from Mars, you most certainly are aware that in the church today there are many preachers who are doing just that – twisting scripture for their personal gain. These are, in effect, crooks. But the church is so blind it holds these villains in the highest esteem. It is no secret that many of the most highly regarded preachers today, whether in Africa, Europe or the U.S., are in this category; but again, if one does not see, they do not see.

People flow to these churches like the Nile River.

But, in his day, the Apostle Paul saw in the Spirit and exposed these villains for who they were. He said of them: “For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ” (2 Cor. 11:13).

Let us move on and see even further. Let us see the really important description of what an apostle is not.

The primary description of what a true apostle of Jesus Christ is not is SOMEONE WHO DOES NOT PREACH THE GOSPEL THAT THE APOSTLE PAUL PREACHED. This is who a true apostle is not. Any ‘apostle’ who does not carry the message that the Apostle Paul carried is a false apostle. Paul himself says as much in Galatians 1:8-9:

8 But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.

9 As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.”

This is our primary scripture in this second part of this series. Notice the emphasis that Paul lays on this particular aspect of his ministry… the gospel that he preached. It points to the importance that he attached to the particular message that he carried.

This is a subject that needs to be laid to rest within the church once and for all. Just as in Paul’s day, today there is an influx into the church of people calling themselves apostles. But in the scripture we just saw in 2 Corinthians 2:17, the Apostle Paul says that not a few of these, but “many… corrupt the word of God.

And how come these ‘corrupters’ are so many? They say supply goes with demand. It means there is a demand by God’s people for this corruption. When there is a lack of spiritual revelation within the church as the early church had, people see only the world, and in that kind of atmosphere these kinds of preachers slide into the church as naturally as breathing air. Actually, the church welcomes them in with open arms.

In our final instalment in this series, following, we will look at the message that the first apostles and the early church carried.

[In a humble café in rural Singida, a man enjoys his early morning breakfast of ‘chapati’, beans and black tea]

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Grace! – the Macedonian Example (Part 2)

1 Moreover, brethren, we do you to wit of the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia;

2 How that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality.

3 For to their power, I bear record, yea, and beyond their power they were willing of themselves;

4 Praying us with much intreaty that we would receive the gift, and take upon us the fellowship of the ministering to the saints. 2 Cor. 8:1-4

Grace is the church’s inheritance. The Bible says: “For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” (Jn. 1:17).

Grace is the inheritance that Jesus gave to the church. Isn’t it wonderful to have, or to own what Jesus bequeathed us?

That is why we cannot lightly “fly past” this scripture about the Macedonians. We must encamp there and see what went on with these blessed brethen.

Y’know, today, to a large extent, we do not have preachers of the gospel in church. Today what the church has is mostly worldly-minded motivational preachers. (In this group, unfortunately, there are also fraudsters and scoundrels of the basest sort). Now, motivational preachers will not talk to you about the grace of God. Grace is heavenly business and these men and women have nothing of heaven in their hearts. So they talk of this world. They will talk about the things of this world. They will talk about money and such-like things.

But I think it would have been rather stupid for Jesus to leave behind the glories of heaven and to come to earth to become a billionaire in some church! It would have been extremely ridiculous, and I am glad Jesus did not do that.

There were only two things that Jesus owned when He was here on earth. Jesus had nothing of this world, but He had something else. He had grace and truth. I don’t know about you but me, I want what Jesus had.

These noble Macedonians certainly did.

Today let us look at verse 2 of this wonderful scripture.

1 Moreover, brethren, we do you to wit of the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia; 2 How that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality.”

We read in verse 2 that when the Macedonian brethren were going through tribulation and suffering for the gospel’s sake, their joy was increased!

There is something called ‘diametrically opposed’. We all know that suffering and joy are diametrically opposed. So these Macedonians accomplished a mathematical formula which even Einstein could not achieve: the marriage of two diametrically opposed experiences, suffering and joy.

That is something that can only be attained through the grace of God.

The Bible says that in rejoicing through suffering, the Macedonians demonstrated the grace of God that was in their lives!

One thing I can tell you for sure is that I am not like these Macedonians. In all sincerity I cannot say that I am happy when things are going all wrong in my life. When things are not “working” for me, I tend to fret and there are even times when I have known myself to become absolutely grace-less (and probably even plain hostile) when the pressure became too much to bear!

But the Bible states here that when the Macedonians were going through trouble, it was all song and dance in those churches. That’s the one experience I sure would love to have and to own in my life! That’s grace.

No amount of writing could exhaust the riches to be found in this tiny portion of scripture.

Let us take a peep at the second part.

“… their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality.”

Here we find another set of diametric opposites: poverty and liberality.

It is generally assumed that the rich should give to the poor. I also subscribe to that belief. He who has should give to him who does not have. That is Biblical.

But that has nothing to do with a generous heart. You can give away all your wealth until you scratch yourself like Job, but that does not mean that you are generous. I know of people who give of their worldly goods, but they are not generous. You can see it in the way they give. They will put you to an interview, where you can feel all the condescending fog from them descending upon you…

Let me put it this way: grace enables us to do things the way God does them. God does things willingly, joyfully and cheerfully. When you have the grace of God in your heart, therefore, the natural outcome is to do God’s will willingly, joyfully and cheerfully. When it comes to giving, you will give in exactly in that manner – willingly, joyfully and cheerfully.

God is generous. I have been saved for a long time, and I can attest to the fact that God is generous. There was a time when I thought that I needed to be financially rich in order to affirm God’s generosity. But I have learned to appreciate God’s generosity towards me, a generosity which does not necessarily have to do with him blessing me financially. Money, as the saying goes, is not everything. That is especially so with the gospel.

What God gives us is a rich heart, a heart rich in grace. This is all that matters with the gospel. A heart rich in grace will accomplish everything God needs it to accomplish.

When the Macedonians received the grace of God, they became rich in generosity.

Let us take time to examine our hearts and to see whether we are rich in grace or not. Today, let us forget for a moment our nicely-trimmed bank accounts. Let us instead look into our hearts. Are we rich there or not?

Tomorrow we will take one final look at this exciting scripture.

[Below: Grace – free as a bird!]

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“Death to the Flesh!”

I am currently on furlough in Musoma. At the same time there is a brother from the church in Dar es Salaam who is on leave and, having visited us here, he is keeping me company in my house. We share many stories with Director (that is his real name) particularly in the evenings when we are alone together. Recently, he told me an incident concerning an anthill that he witnessed when he was a small child. He says there was an anthill on their farm and his father thought that it was drying up the crops. He therefore ordered his elder sons to flatten it. They did so but within a week it was back again, big as ever. They flattened it again, but within no time the ants had built it up again exactly as it was before.

One day their grandmother saw them digging up the anthill. She had seen them dig up the anthill again and again without success. On that particular day she called out to the young men: “That anthill will never go away until you dig up and kill their queen!”

The boys seemed to understand her meaning and the next day they attacked the anthill in earnest. It took them two days to excavate the entire anthill. They dug until they reached far down where they found the ant ‘queen’ whom they brought up and laid out in the sun to dry. All the young children, Director included, came to watch the big, fat, shiny object as it lay writhing on the bare ground.

“It was the ugliest thing I ever saw”, concluded Director.

Which brings us to the subject of the flesh. The flesh may appear beautiful and desirable to the natural eye, but in the spirit it is the ugliest thing. Not only so, but it is a silent killer. The flesh will have you hollering “Hallelujah!”, but you are an empty shell on the inside, full of every kind of wickedness. And, as with the ant ‘queen’ it is hidden far deep within us. Comfortably wrapped up in a cloak of religious ‘holiness’ we are hardly likely to realize it when we are walking in the flesh. It requires a revelation from God and a deep work of some sort to uproot it from our system. The bottom line is that there is no way to arrive at true spiritual victory without dealing permanently with the flesh.

That is why we need a spiritual understanding of the Cross of Jesus. Let us see what the Apostle Peter has to say in 1 Peter:

Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow.” 1:11

“But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.” 4:13

“The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed” 5:1

Peter talks a lot about suffering in these verses. Suffering is a word we would rather not hear. And yet, a revelation of the Church is a revelation of the Cross of Christ, which in turn points to the sufferings of Christ – and His death. All the men and women whom the Lord used throughout history to bring out His purpose in the Spirit were men and women who saw and experienced the sufferings of Christ in one way or another. Our father, Abraham, obtained his son Isaac when he was “as good as dead” Heb. 11:12. God went beyond there and demanded that Abraham sacrifice Isaac on the altar.

Many of the apostles died in martyrdom. They should have retired with great honor and better ‘benefits’, but they expired in ignominy.

The Bible, however, states that these men experienced a far greater glory in the eternal Kingdom by going through these experiences.

These are things that the Church today ought to consider very carefully. The Church should consider the role of the Cross in their lives. Logically speaking, if there is no revelation of the Cross in our lives, then we might as well forget the life of Christ springing forth from us. Yes, we will still be Christians, but carnal ones.

Nowadays you hear self-styled prophets ‘prophesying’ about this and that successful venture over hapless Christians. These are false apostles, men who answer to the call of the flesh. That is why there are so many manifestations of the flesh – and even demonic ones – in the Church today!

The true ministries of Christ will confront and uproot completely the flesh and all its works in the Church. We need to arrive at the place where we have truly died with Christ (Col.2:20); a place where, since we are still living in this sinful world, of necessity death is daily working in us (1 Cor. 15:31) to bring out that Christ-like character (Php 3:11) that caused the early saints to be called Christians by the Antiochians.