Two Lessons – Part 1

1 Then fourteen years after I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and took Titus with me also.

2 And I went up by revelation, and communicated unto them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to them which were of reputation, lest by any means I should run, or had run, in vain.

3 But neither Titus, who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised:

4 And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage:

5 To whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you.

6 But of these who seemed to be somewhat, (whatsoever they were, it maketh no matter to me: God accepteth no man’s person:) for they who seemed to be somewhat in conference added nothing to me:

7 But contrariwise, when they saw that the gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto me, as the gospel of the circumcision was unto Peter;

8 (For he that wrought effectually in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, the same was mighty in me toward the Gentiles:)

9 And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision.

10 Only they would that we should remember the poor; the same which I also was forward to do. Gal. 2:1-10

I have been away for a while but I thank the Lord that He has helped me through many difficult stutations; and I am glad to be back.

Today I would like to address two issues that are on my heart, both of which are to be found in the above portion of scripture.

The first issue I would like to address is found in verses 1 through 6. It is about the liberty that we have in Christ. It is clear here that, even if the gospel first sounded out from Jerusalem, yet there was a problem that simply had failed to go away in that church. That problem was legalism and its resultant bond-brother, hypocrisy. Hypocrisy always attends legalism (to those who accept to be bound by legalism).

The apostles in Jerusalem had failed to handle legalism, and it therefore had the upper hand within the church. But Paul had received a slightly different gospel: the gospel of the grace of Christ, in its fullness. He knew what true liberty was in the Spirit. Christ had revealed Himself to him in a way He had not done with the other apostles.

Paul’s words, therefore, in verse 6:

“But of these who seemed to be somewhat, (whatsoever they were, it maketh no matter to me: God accepteth no man’s person:) for they who seemed to be somewhat in conference added nothing to me”

were a stinging rebuke of the hypocrisy that was going on in the church in Jerusalem. Titles were meaningless here. Apostle or no apostle, stand for the truth of the gospel!!

The problem in the church in Jerusalem was made clear when men from Jerusalem came and found Peter eating with the Gentile brethren. The account states that these men had come “from James” (v.12). Peter immediately withdrew from associating with the Gentiles, fearing a backlash from the Jerusalem party. The law was so powerful that every other Jew, including even Barnabas, a long-time associate of Paul’s, was taken up in the hypocrisy.

There are few men, even today, who can go against the formidable tide of the spirit of the world to defend the gospel of grace and freedom in Christ against law and hypocrisy. Pastors, apostles, prophets and leaders of every sort of the gospel will arrive at a place in their ministry where they will be tested in this regard – and, sadly, many will compromise. They will find it hard to defend the gospel against men.

Uncompromising men like Paul are rare. But the important fact to understand is that these can only be men and women who have died to self through a realization of the cross in their lives.

Notice what Paul says in verse 2:

“And I went up by revelation…”

What wonderful news! A man of God who can be led only by the revelation of God in his heart, and not by James or John or Peter!! Paul did not go to Jerusalem because any of the apostles had sent him summonses, no. Paul went by revelation, thank God – and that after a long time ministering under that same revelation.

The men and women who walk by revelation of Jesus Christ in their hearts are they who will bring the true gospel of the cross to triumph in a world that is clueless about the true meaning of the cross.

[Below: Paul went up to Jerusalem by revelation]

Image16154

Tortoise Or Giraffe Meat?

11 But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man.

12 For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.

13 For ye have heard of my conversation in time past in the Jews’ religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it:

14 And profited in the Jews’ religion above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers.

15 But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by his grace,

16 To reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood:

17 Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus…

21 Afterwards I came into the regions of Syria and Cilicia;

22 And was unknown by face unto the churches of Judaea which were in Christ:

23 But they had heard only, That he which persecuted us in times past now preacheth the faith which once he destroyed.

24 And they glorified God in me. Gal. 1:11-24

The people amongst whom I live eat tortoises. Or at least they used to eat in former times, for the story I am about to narrate is of long bygone days. Tortoises, though, were eaten as a last resort, when there was no other meat available. The story goes that one day, a man was walking in the bush when he came across a large tortoise. He immediately caught it and put it on his head and headed home. As he walked along he met two men going in the opposite direction. The men asked him, “What is that you are carrying?”

“It’s a tortoise”, replied the man.

“Throw that away”, the men told him. “We just received news that a giraffe has been killed in the valley and you can go take as much as you need.”

The man quickly threw away the tortoise and headed to the valley with his two friends. There they found the dead giraffe and all the vllagers were taking away as much meat as they could.

In a related development… Two years ago, myself together with a team of five other pastors were travelling to a neighboring country to attend a conference. These were pastors who had recently ‘converted’ to the gospel of the cross, and they were eager to hear more about the cross.

A few hours into our journey, one of the men received a call. After the initial greetings, the conversation proceeded as follows:

The caller: “Where are you?”

The pastor: “I am on a bus.”

“What bus?”

“I am travelling to Nairobi.”

“What?! What are you going to do in Nairobi?”

“I am attending a conference.”

“What conference? You mean you will no longer be attending our classes?”

“Er, not exactly, but for the next few days I won’t.”

“If that’s the case, then we need you to hand back our books, how do we get them?”

“Unfortunately, you will have to wait until I come back”, said our man.

We were all seated on adjacent seats, so we all could hear our man’s side of the conversation. In any case, there are people (myself included) who, when on the phone, have an undefiable inclination to talk in a loud voice. The reason for this propensity to talk loudly on the phone is another story altogether which I shall reserve for later. And our man was talking as if he was in a shouting match.

After he had hung up, the pastor seated next to him asked him, “What was that about a class and books?”

“Oh, it’s a class on discipleship that I have been attending.”

“What discipleship?”

“Well, y’know, becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ.”

“Do you have those books with you here?”

“I have one”, replied the pastor.

“Let me see it.”

At which the pastor pulled out from his bag a medium-sized Christian manual.

Without even opening it, his fellow told him, “Throw that tortoise out the bus window. How can you still be carrying a tortoise when we are going to eat giraffe meat?”

Ever since that day, our team has fashioned many anecdotes based on the story of the tortoise and the giraffe.

But, on a more serious note, such a conversation can tell you immediately the man whose eyes have seen in the Spirit and one who has not; the man who has caught the revelation of the true gospel of Jesus Christ, which is the gospel of the cross, and one who has not. The one who has caught this revelation talks like the Apostle Paul:

“But we preach Christ crucified…” (1 Cor. 1:23); and

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

The first thing that happens when a man or woman receives the revelation of the cross is that they think and talk differently, not just from the world, but from the charismatic gospel. The cross is always on their lips. They talk a language you cannot hear in the charismatic gospel.

In his epistles the Apostle Paul talks about the revelation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. This revelation was the basis of what Paul preached. He preached “Christ crucified” (1 Cor. 1:23); an assertion which, as we just saw, he repeats in 1 Corinthians 2:2.

But this revelation was not a burst of light nor some form of inspiration. On the contrary, it was a work of the Spirit in the inner man, as he tells us in Galatians 1 above:

“23 But they had heard only, That he which persecuted us in times past now preacheth the faith which once he destroyed. 24 And they glorified God in me.”

As we see here with Paul, we live the gospel that we preach. Our lives transform and we change. In other words, we live the crucified life, where the old man in us is daily crucified to this world and the new, who is formed in the image of Jesus Christ, is daily formed in us, unto perfection. As the Bible says in Galatians 5:24:

And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.”

These people heard about the transformation that had taken place in Paul’s life!

[Children playing in a village in central Tanzania]

Image16557[1]

Deception vs the Cross

I don’t know when this video was taken. Nevertheless, I thank the Lord Jesus Christ so much! The people in this video are men and women whom I would not, in a million years, have the faintest chance of matching in terms of brainpower, power, status or worldly wealth. (There are people here being asked for a single donation of 10,000 U.S. dollars!)

And yet, thanks to the grace of God, even though I am light years away from their class, I cannot imagine being scammed on the massive scale that these people are being scammed. Not that I am judging them. On the contrary, my heart goes out to them. These are people who had not the revelation of the true gospel of Jesus Christ – “Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2) – in their hearts. They probably had never heard it preached. But, again, in their day, there probably was no teacher of the gospel who taught this revelation.

But, today, God has brought to light the gospel of the revelation of the cross of Jesus Christ and it is spreading all over the earth. And yet, even today, there are equally level-headed people – God’s people – who are being conned on an even bigger magnitude than what we witness in this video clip.

I have no words to express my gratitude to God, who delivered me from gospels of preachers such as these, who do not have the revelation of the cross in them; to whom, I hasten to add, I was once enslaved.

“(The Lord) brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings.” (Ps. 40:2)

It is a sad tale, the tale of where today’s men of God have taken the church to. They have taken God’s people back into the miry pit.

Sadly, everything in this video clip – the beautiful piano music, the soothing voice of the man speaking in the background, the preacher’s well-modulated intonations – are all used to euthanize the minds of the people this preacher is targeting.

Christ Crucified – A Heavenly Visitation

10 Of which salvation the prophets have enquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you:
11 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.
12 Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; which things the angels desire to look into. 1 Pet. 1:10-12
One day, my wife and I were recalling a certain man of God, well known the world over through his ministry who, a few years back, had graced our annual CTMI (www.ctmi.org) conference in Mauritius.
My wife asked me, “Did you ever hear of that man again?”
I answered, “No.”
“You mean he never came back again?” she persisted.
“I think so”, I said.
The significance of what we had just spoken sank deep into us and we both fell silent. It dawned on us that this man had been unable to grasp the import of the gospel of the cross. It dawned on us even further how difficult and, in some cases, how downright impossible it is for the great men of God in this world to see in the Spirit “Jesus Christ, and him crucified”.
Scripture tells us that the prophets of old “enquired and searched diligently… of the grace that should come to”… us!
The prophets of old were great men in the Spirit. They saw and heard in the Spirit that “which it is not lawful for a man to utter” (2 Cor. 12:4).
Moreover, these men performed great and powerful miracles in the Name of the Lord. These were truly powerful men in the Spirit. Also, they underwent some of the most severe sufferings in order to bring God’s vision to fruition in our lives. And yet these men and women were denied the right to understand or experience the grace that is ours today. What a powerful realization!
But that is not all. God’s Word tells us something even more awe-inspiring about the grace that is ours today:
“…which things the angels desire to look into”.
Angels are heavenly spiritual beings. They are unparalleled in power and might and wisdom. But here the Bible declares that they long to “look into” the grace that we are experiencing today.
What does scripture mean by “angels desire to look into”?
It means that God’s holy angels desire to understand, or experience the grace that can be found in the crucified life. This understanding makes us to realize that the crucified life the highest manner of life that can be lived on earth and in heaven. That is why Jesus is so exalted, because He was able to live the crucified life.
The revelation of a crucified life is the privilege that God has reserved for all who will believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. It is an indescribable privilege to be able to understand “Jesus Christ, and him crucified” Herein, in the crucified life, lies the measureless grace of God in its entirety, and God’s glory also (1 Pet. 1:11).
That is why the Apostle Paul declares that when he went to the Corinthians, he “determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” (1 Cor. 2:2)
Why should he? Paul had seen in the Spirit the glory of this privilege, and he was not about to play games with it.
But this is also a glory that has bypassed the great men and women of God in this world. For only the humble in heart can experience the crucified life and the grace and the glory to be found therein.
The Apostle Peter therefore shows those of us who have seen this glory of the crucified life and who have allowed themselves to be under the hand of God the great responsibility that we have:
“13 Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; 14 As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance: 15 But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; 16 Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy. 17 And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man’s work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear” (1 Pet. 1:13-17).

image13684

Carrying The Heavenly Vision

24 And when the messengers of John were departed, he began to speak unto the people concerning John, What went ye out into the wilderness for to see? A reed shaken with the wind?
25 But what went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? Behold, they which are gorgeously apparelled, and live delicately, are in kings’ courts.
26 But what went ye out for to see? A prophet? Yea, I say unto you, and much more than a prophet.
27 This is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee.
28 For I say unto you, Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist: but he that is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he. Lk. 7:24-28
Just the other day, a brother and I were walking in the hot midday sun and we got so exhausted that one of us quipped, “Sometimes I wish we had a car to move about with!”
To which the other replied, “True. But that’s hardly a priority.”
“Yes”, agreed the former. “A car is hardly a priority with us.”
One of the incredible graces that God has blessed this brother and I with is to discern what God’s real blessings are. I remember there was a time when I used to pray for every material blessing under the sun. I had a long list of things that I wanted God to give me. While some are needful, yet I now realize that most of the things that I used to desire and pray for so vigorously are absolutely insignificant.
When some believers hear me saying that, they deride me.
“It is because you do not have these things, that’s why you talk that way”, they say.
But I know their accusation is not true. On the contrary, it is what is in my heart that makes me to consider material things unimportant in my life.
There are many blessings in my life which that God has granted me. One of the blessings that this brother and I cherish in our lives is the deep contentment we get from each other’s company. We both realize that the grace of God is upon our lives in this regard. This brother’s company is one of the most amazing and important things in my life. He is as I and often I wonder at the blessing of having such a wonderful brother by my side.
Today’s modern gospels want the believer to believe that the comforts of this world are the most important things in their lives. This leads him to compete with the world for the things and comforts of this world. But we ought to realize that, although we are in the world, our Kingdom is not of this world. We should not become materialistic Christians.
Jesus said, “… Behold, they which are gorgeously apparelled, and live delicately, are in kings’ courts.” (Lk. 7:25)
These are worldly-minded people, Jesus said. In today’s world, the prosperity gospel has bewitched God’s people.
But the man whom Jesus was about to talk about did not live in kings’ houses.
Now, one the most amazing facts about this account is the fact that Jesus would take such a long time to speak about a man, John the Baptist. This shows us that this man was very important in God’s Kingdom. Jesus Himself said as much.
Jesus began by contrasting John the Baptist with the comfortable lives that earthly kings live. A king’s lifestyle represents the highest standard of living in the land. He lives that kind of life because he holds the ultimate reins of power.
But Jesus went on and told the people that, even though John was so weak in the worldly sense that he appeared like a reed in the wind, yet he represented something which had infinitely much more power and glory than that of earthly kings.
Jesus said, “You went out to see, not a king, but a prophet.”
It is beyond doubt that a prophet is supremely above any king. A prophet is someone who has been sent by God. That in itself sets him far above this world in terms of glory, power and importance, for all earthly kings are subject to God. A prophet carries a message from God. He might be sent to warn, to direct or to comfort, but his message comes directly from God Himself. He is God’s mouthpiece. In spiritual terms, an earthly king in all his glory pales in the face of a prophet of God. The former lacks enduring glory and power, while the latter carries the same in himself.
But, still, Jesus told the crowd, John’s mission was far greater than that of an ordinary prophet. John had a mission that set him apart from other prophets. This is because he came to accomplish the most important task that would ever be accomplished by any man on earth. John was sent to precede and prepare God’s people for the coming of God’s Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world.
26 But what went ye out for to see? A prophet? Yea, I say unto you, and much more than a prophet. 27 This is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee.”
There could never be a more noble duty assigned to man than this!
For this reason, Jesus said, “… Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist”.
Among those that are born of women, including kings, there never had been, and there never would be, a greater prophet than John the Baptist.
But Jesus had not arrived at the end of what He wanted to tell the people who were listening to Him. In saying all this, Jesus was laying a foundation for the ultimate message that He was about to deliver. All this was a preamble to the important message that He had for His listeners. And it was that, finally, He declared it:
“… but he that is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”
Notice there are two “he”s in this sentence. The last “he” refers to John the Baptist, of course, but who does the first “he” refer to? And it is clear that this person is greater than John the Baptist. Who could this “he” be?
It is us, we who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus was telling His listeners that anyone who would believe on Him under the New Covenant would be far greater than John the Baptist.
What an awesome realisation! Jesus indicated that John was of another era, the Old Testament era, whose end he was announcing. The Lord Jesus Christ ushered in the new era of the New Covenant. And the Bible says in 2 Corinthians 3 that the New Covenant is far greater than the old one.
Now, if Jesus could contrast, or separate John the Baptist from the world and its comforts, how much more should we be separated from them? Much, much more, I believe.
It is not that we should not have the things of this world; rather, it is that our hearts should never, ever be bound up with these things.
One of the most powerful examples of this in the Bible is Job. Job was one of the most blessed men in his generation. He was extremely rich materially. But Job lost everything, including his children, in just one day. Upon receiving the news of his staggering calamity, however, the Bible says that Job fell down on his face and worshipped God. And the Bible further says:
“21 And said, Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD. 22 In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly.” (Job 1:21-22)
Clearly, Job’s heart was not on the things that God had blessed him with. Job’s heart was on the heavenly glory; losing, or not having material things was a small sacrifice for him.

[Below: The brother I love and myself]

Image11101

 

The Ministry Of The Holy Spirit

1 And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God.

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

3 And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling.

4 And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power:

5 That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God. 1 Cor. 2:1-5

This is an incredible scripture. In these verses, the Apostle Paul is stating an incredible fact. He is saying that he had absolutely no need of anything human in order to deliver the transformational message of the gospel. Mark that. Paul had absolutely no need, nor any use for anything that comes from man or the world system.

It did not matter even if he did not have the capacity to express himself. Indeed, Paul did not have that capacity, just as we see with Moses (2 Cor. 11:6). But even if he had such a capacity, Paul declares here that he would not have depended on it in preaching the gospel to the Corinthians.

It no longer mattered whether he was educated or not. Indeed, Paul had to lose his education together with all that he had in order to gain and preach Christ.

When the Apostle says in verse 4,

“And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power”;

he is not talking about miracles. Not by the longest shot. On the contrary, Paul is talking of something far more important to God, and to us, than performing and receiving miracles. Paul is talking of a work deep in the spirit of man, a work that can only be accomplished by the Holy Spirit Himself.

Today, you hear people shouting all over church-land: “Power!”, “Receive!” and such like things when they see demonstrations of the power of God. But even though God’s power might be demonstrated in miracles and healings, yet the incalculably greater miracle is the one over which Paul was mandated: to set the spirits of men free from the power of sin. Thus we see that the true power of God is demonstrated in the transformational work of the cross in a man’s life.

It was not that Paul was a lazy man who did not want to put his intellect to work. Paul did not just opt not to lean on his intelligence. On the contrary, Paul was a spiritually intelligent man who knew that there was only one way to accomplish God’s will in the lives of men: by the Spirit of God.

When the Holy Spirit has the opportunity to work in a vessel like he had in a man like Paul, He reveals the cross in men’s hearts, and this revelation has the power to change or transform men into the image of Christ. It can completely uproot all the works of the devil in our lives, chief of which is the sin which dwells in our hearts.

In one place, Paul tells the Corinthians that the gospel has power to cast down “…imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ; and having in a readiness to revenge all disobedience…” (2 Cor. 10:5-6)

Such is the power of the gospel.

Isn’t it strange that people seem so concerned with miracles and other outer manifestations of the Holy Spirit’s working rather than the defeat of the sin within us? Show me a man who has the zeal to be rid of sin in his life, and I will show you a man who is headed to heaven. On the other hand, show me a man who is only excited about miracles and healings; such a man could be headed anywhere.

Paul further tells the Corinthians in verse 3:

“And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling”.

Why was that so? It was because Paul feared himself. He feared to allow his intellect or anything he had learned, or, indeed, anything else to get in the way of the Holy Spirit. Paul feared even tradition. He feared to infuse his Jewish tradition into the gospel.

I once heard of a Rastafarian church. There is no such thing in the Bible. That is simply tradition and there is no power of God in tradition. There is no African church, no Arab church, and no white church. There is only one church, the united Body of Christ.

We should never rely on anything human or worldly when it comes to the gospel. That is simply man’s vanity and it brings death and destruction instead of the life of God. We should not even rely on any gift that we have in the natural.

That is why the cross must confront us first. We should first allow the cross to work in us and break us. Nothing that comes from us has any power to change men. But when we die to ourselves, we allow the Holy Spirit in us to reveal the cross in men’s hearts. This was what Paul meant when he tells the Corinthians,

“And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling”.

One of the reasons I love Paul’s stance is that by not depending on “man’s wisdom”, Paul became truly free. He did not have to lean on his intelligence. He did not have to depend on anything that he had, or that he could get from this world.

I once had a pastor friend who had just come back from Bible college. He brought back a truckful of books and all the lessons he had learned in Bible school. But this pastor had not changed one little bit. He preached the gospel with great eloquence. But the true gospel of Jesus Christ is presented by the Holy Spirit Himself, not by any Bible school methods or knowledge. What this preacher needed to come back with was a change in his character through a revelation of the cross in his life.

Paul did not struggle to bring a message. On the contrary, the main struggle that we see Paul having here is crucifying his flesh – his human nature and intellect and the worldly system – so that he would allow the Holy Spirit to minister. The Apostle Paul strove to keep his flesh clear of the Holy Spirit’s ministry field. He could only do that by crucifying it.

Finally, in these scriptures, we see what the true ‘ministry’ of the Holy Spirit involves. The Holy Spirit ministers “Jesus Christ and him crucified”, or the cross of Jesus Christ. It is in this revelation that the power of God is found. In other words, when Paul says:

“That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God”;

he is in effect talking about the revelation of the cross of Jesus Christ in a man’s heart and the transformational work it brings to him, in contrast to a gospel that comes from human wisdom, which has no power to bring about such a transformation.

[Below: A bus agent at the main Arusha bus stand attends to two tourists]

Image12093

Turning Point!

1 It is not expedient for me doubtless to glory. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord.

2 I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven.

3 And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;)

4 How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter…

 7 And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.

8 For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.

9 And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.

In verse 7 the Apostle Paul reveals that it was he who was “caught up to the third heaven… into paradise”. And he writes that it was he, while there, who “heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.”

Paul was a man who was held in high esteem indeed by God. He was a man to whom God revealed His deepest secrets. In the natural order of things we would therefore expect that God would “uplift” His most trusted servant and send him about with angels on trumpets announcing his arrival in every city. Paul’s name and persona ought to have been growing with his every appearance.

But it did not work that way for Paul. On the contrary, instead of sending ministering angels, God sent to Paul a messenger of Satan – to buffet him! Paul called this his “thorn in the flesh”. In other words, God’s style of “blessing” Paul was to put a thorn in his flesh.

The next thing we see is that initially Paul was not happy about this thorn. He did not go about singing “Glory, hallelujah!” on account of this thorn. On the contrary, we read that Paul prayed to God thrice to have this thorn removed from his flesh. In practical terms, Paul was not happy about the situations that came into his life.

For a long time, I personally had no idea about what Paul went through here. I thought I knew, but one day God decided to show me that I did not know. I do not claim to have any association with Paul’s persecutions, but one day God put me through something similar, or close to what Paul went through. It was something I had never experienced before. It was so painful. It was all the more painful because it appeared unreasonably unjust. It was one of the hardest things I had ever experienced in my Christian life. And so, just like Paul once did, I “kicked against the pricks” (Acts 9:5).

The last thing we notice in this scripture is the most important. Paul finally realized and accepted what God wanted to do with the thorn He had placed in his flesh. He realized that God wanted to humble him. Paul realized that God did not want him to serve Him in his own strength. This would have made him to boast. God wanted Paul to serve Him in His grace so that all glory and honor would return to God.

Paul finally accepted that and, once that had been settled in his heart, Paul was not content with passively accepting adverse situations in his life. He went further and welcomed them for he knew, just as God had told him, that it was these very situations that would break him and enable him to serve God in a manner that pleased Him – in God’s strength, not his own.

This acceptance by Paul was the turning point in Paul’s ministry and life. From that moment on, Paul became a truly spiritual man.

In the particular test that God gave me, I failed miserably. Yet, in hindsight, when I think about the ordeal, I have reason to smile. In the first place, it was wonderful that God would put His hand upon my life in such a manner. The textbook understanding in mainstream Pentecostalism is that God only has a soft hand which He gently wraps around us to comfort us in our distresses.

But God has two hands. With the other hand, He moulds and fashions us into the image He wants us to be in order for us to carry His purpose on earth. And the moulding is hard and painful.

I am sure the Apostle Paul had no argument against carrying God’s revelation in his heart. None of us would. It is an exalted position to be so entrusted by God. Paul admits that it was something that would have brought pride into his heart. But in our lack of spiritual understanding we fail to realize the price we have to pay in order to carry the secrets of God.

We cannot serve God as we should until a messenger of Satan has been sent to deal with our flesh. It is incredible how, in Pentecostalism, we have learned to elevate men to impossible heights while here we see God beating Paul to a pulp! But Paul was there for God’s purposes, not his.

[Below: The Moshi Town bus stand, with Mt. Kilimanjaro looming in the background]

Image11980