The Antiochians – Again! (Part 1)

25 Then departed Barnabas to Tarsus, for to seek Saul:

26 And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch. Acts 11:25-26

Let us read that last line once again.

“And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.”

Now, please don’t tell me, “Oh, Mwita, you just wrote on this a few days ago.”

Actually, I am surprised we do not talk much on this particular scripture. No. On the contrary, this scripture needs to be turned into a mantra that every believer should be chanting every minute of their lives.

The disciples were called Christians. Oh. I cannot imagine the price that these believers in Antioch paid to be called so. When I see the defeat in the church today, I just cannot imagine what kind of people these believers were. Once again, I salute them.

Today, Christianity is, to a large degree, just a label, for there is everything in church except victory over sin and over the flesh. There is very little victory in church over these things. But there is so much of everything else: knowledge, signs and wonders, high class sermons, music. The church today is very much like the Corinthian church was in Paul’s day, for Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:4-7 writes them:

“4 I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ; 5 That in every thing ye are enriched by him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge; 6 Even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you: 7 So that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ…”

The Corinthians had all the wonderful things listed here but they lacked the singular thing that would make then Christians. They lacked the cross in their lives. They had lost the revelation to deny themselves and living a life of daily crucifying their flesh. And therefore the Apostle Paul told them pointblank,

“1 And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ… 3 For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?” (1 Cor. 3:1-3)

You could not possibly call such people Christians, for a Christian is one who reflects the character of Christ in their lives.

But, in Peter 2:21-23 we read of the example that Christ left us.

“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”

What exactly is verse 23 trying to tell us?

It is telling us that Jesus did not do anything to defend Himself. On the contrary, He allowed His flesh to be crucified.

The word “reviled” means “insulted”. When people insult us, it hurts. Our gut reaction therefore is to insult back; or, at the very least, answer back. We want to hit back!

But Jesus stood still and let the wave of insults ride out its full strength on Him. He did the same with all the other sufferings that were meted out on Him.

And the Bible says that this was the example that He left us. This is one of the most difficult things for us to do, our religious exterior notwithstanding.

The believers at Antioch portrayed this same resilience in the face of the opposition against their faith.

But they did more than that. They lived the life of Christ to the full. Verse 22 says of Jesus:

“Who did no sin”.

This means that Jesus lived a perfectly holy life. He did not give in to the unclean lusts of the flesh but, on the contrary, He crucified them.

The believers at Antioch depicted this same sacrificial character of Christ in their lives. They saw the believers sacrificing their bodies. And all who saw them saw Christ revealed in them. And they said of them, “There are of Christ. These be Christians.”

In our second part we shall see what it was that the Antiochian believers proved to be such a testimony of the life of Christ in them.

[“And be ye kind one to another…” Eph. 4:32]

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God’s Nature, Our Nature – Part 2

43 Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. 44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; 45 That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. Mat. 5:43-45

35 But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil. 36 Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful (Lk. 6:35-36).

I was shocked to learn recently that of the most hated group amongst prisoners by their fellow inmates are child molesters, also known as paedophiles. The other group that is equally hated in prison are rapists. These two groups of people are amongst those who are most likely to be attacked in jail by their fellow inmates. In other words, the men that we loathe most (criminals) do not like people who mercilessly prey on the weak.

Now, I know it is not easy to talk well of jailed criminals, many of who themselves have hurt people in extremely bad and cruel ways. But it is contemplative to know that somewhere in their dark hearts, these people can sport some form of kindness. I am also assured that, to the dismay of many of us, we will find many of these violent criminals seated in the front row in the Kingdom of God. They will have heard the gospel and they will have repented of their sins. And God forgot long ago that they ever sinned!

The heart of man is God’s abode. It can carry incredible riches – riches of the grace of God. That is why when we get to heaven, you will find these violent murderers seated up front. It is because one day, these men and women opened their hearts to the grace of God and it transformed their lives. God’s Kingdom is all about the heart.

Just consider the sun again. The sun has been around since Adam. That talks of how rich God is. That thing could be up there for eternity if God so desired, burning up and never diminishing. That talks of His power.

In the same way that He is rich and powerful physically and materially, God is more so spiritually. Amongst His many Godly characteristics (of which He is extremely rich) is the trait of kindness. Kindness goes hand in hand with mercy, and that is why Luke’s account is so helpful here. The root cause of kindness is mercy. Mercy talks of a soft heart. That is one reason why when we believe God gives us a heart of meat. He removes a heart of stone from us and gives us a soft heart so that we may be kind to people.

Kindness is something very deep, and spiritual. Kindness also speaks of humility. You have to be humble in order to be kind. Otherwise, you will lord it over anyone unfortunate enough to ‘benefit’ from your selfish brand of generosity, which is no generosity at all.

In the natural, when people hurt us we immediately think of ourselves. Self  takes over. That is when anger and little things like resentment, and irritation set in. We are so weak!

But kindness is the basis for forgiveness. You don’t forgive because it is written; you forgive because you love that person. With God, when we hurt Him, He thinks of us. When we hurt God, He comes up close and looks us up. He is not thinking about revenge, but He is looking for where the problem is. Once He finds the faultline, He lovingly fixes it. That is mercy.

God is calling us to carry the same heart that He has. And that can only be accomplished in the Spirit when we go to the cross, just as the Author of our salvation went to the cross. The gospel of the cross alone can cause us to have the heart that Jesus had and still has.

[Below: The roundabout leading to Singida Town]

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God’s Nature, Our Nature – Part 1

43 Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.

44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;

45 That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. Mat. 5:43-45

Luke adds something there:

35 But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil. 36 Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful” (Lk. 6:35-36).

People want to be paid for every little thing they do! More so today than ever before, fewer and fewer people can think of doing anything for anyone – even God – without attaching a financial tag to their ‘good’ work.

And it is not just money that people are after. Appreciation and gratitude is another thing that people avidly seek after. People love the gratification of self. A simple “Thank you” can turn into a deadly trap for the heaven-bound person. The minute you demand to be acknowledged or thanked in your heart, the good you just did is forgotten, lost forever. Jesus specifically said so:

Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward” (Mat. 6:2).

There are many things that the human heart desires, and when these desires are appeased, the Bible considers it as payment. But regardless of this warning by our Lord, even believers want to gain in this world.

But that is not God’s nature. God is kind, and He gives freely. Just stop and think about the many good things that God does for us? Who pays Him?

Let us consider what Matthew says:

“…for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.”

Why does the Bible here mention only the sun and rain? It is because these two things form the basis of life on earth. And the Bible says that God gives them to us freely and without measure.

Think about the sun. The sun is not a spiritual something; it is matter. Now, definitely, a lot of physical energy is used to run that raging orb of fire! So who runs it? God does. God physically runs the sun. They say nothing is free in this world, but you haven’t seen a bill for the sunlight lately, have you? But God runs the sun at His own material and physical expense. God keeps the sun burning to provide the heat and light that is needed for us to stay alive, healthy and happy.

And just think about the rain. A lot of physical work is needed to condense and pour down all that water upon the earth. Physical work, I say. And who does all that work? It is God who does it. And once He is ready to pour down the rain, He does not ration the water for us. Year after year, generation upon generation He pours down rain far in excess of our needs.

The more interesting fact is that God keeps the fact of His ‘busy-ness’ on our behalf a closely-guarded secret. He keeps it under wraps, so to speak. So much so that most people think these things happen of their own accord.

The Bible says that God even dresses up the flowers, and that He feeds the birds! How busy God is. While we are busy defending our small little rights and protecting our insignificant little backyards, God is busy doing good on a physical and spiritual scale that defies any form of description.

There are people who work very hard and who believe that others should not benefit from their hard labor. God would put such people to shame!

And, by the way, did you happen to read that God neither slumbers nor sleeps (Ps. 121:4)? I haven’t read anywhere where it says that God would not want to ease up on His schedule and rest aways. But He stays awake and alert on our behalf. Have you ever thought how this world can remain in so much relative peace while there is so much evil abounding? That also comes from God. He holds back the evil.

God is the most selfless Person ever. This blog would not suffice to list the thousands of different kinds of provision that God affords mankind in the physical realm, free of charge.

Now, with all the physical and material cost that goes into the preparation and delivery of all these things, you would think that God would give them only to those who are obedient and pleasing to Him – those who do good. With God nothing is impossible, and it would be a very small matter for Him to only shine His sun on His good servant and leave the bad guy patting his way about in the darkness even if the two were sleeping in the same bed.

But again that is not God’s nature. Luke’s account says He is kind even to the unthankful. Now, I can assure you that dealing with a thankless person is an extremely testing experience. You do something for someone and they do not thank you well enough. That is highly inflammatory, to say the least.

But do you know how many thankless people are enjoying God’s sun and His rain and every other provision that God has to offer? In actual fact, God blesses the evil more than He does the good. Regardless of what you have heard taught in church, have you not noticed that the unrighteous people in this world are also the richest materially? Undoubtedly, that is one of the most obvious facts in this world.

And now we come to the mind-boggling final look at the nature of God. Have you, as a child of God, ever thought about the fact of God’s grace in choosing you to inherit salvation? You were no better than your fellow man who dies in their sin and goes to hell. You never paid a cent for your salvation. And the even more incredible truth is that you were rebellious right up to the minute that God saved you.

Personally, I recall that God came looking for me at the wrongest possible moment in my life. I was 25 years old at the time, and “enjoying life” to the full. And I was extremely rebellious. My grandmother used to call me the ‘king of the Baganda’. To this day, I never knew what she meant by that term, but I do know that in our family of more than ten members, I seemed to rule everyone and everything. Whatever I said in that house was law… even my father and my mother and my elder brothers were expected to obey it. Later on in my adult life, my mom would look at me and she would begin to laugh, and she would laugh and laugh and I would ask what she was laughing about, and she would remind me of any one of a thousand ‘epic’ dust storms that I raised in that home during my heydays.

Anyways, on the day that I got saved, as I knelt down and they began to pray for me, I do remember that I was tempted to stand up and walk away… the rebellious nature in me was rising up even as they prayed over me to get saved! But as the pastor and his team of three young men pressed on in prayer – with their hands firmly planted on my head – a miracle happened, and a transformation occurred in my life. I instantly became as meek as a lamb. You might think it a rather fictional account that someone would need four men to hold him down in order to get him saved; but Saul, who would later on become the Apostle Paul, needed a bolt of lightning from heaven to cool his heels!

Even today, I am awed by the grace of that moment. God held me down there until He had delivered me from the devil’s clutches. Somehow, He needed me that badly. Amazing!

In whatever fashion we were saved, though, the fact is that our salvation is totally a work of grace. It is God Himself who chooses men and calls them. And after He has called them, He washes them clean and begins forming them to become His sons and daughters in the Spirit.

[Below: Just like children, we are partakers of God’s hard labor, freely and generously given, both physically and spiritually]

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