Of Apostles And Prophets – Part 2

1 For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles, 
2 If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward: 
3 How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, 
4 Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) 
5 Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit (Eph. 3:1-5)

Let us begin with the Old Testament. In proverbs 17:11 we read:

“An evil man seeketh only rebellion: therefore a cruel messenger shall be sent against him.”

Notice how these words align with what the Apostle Paul went through as he describes in 2 Corinthians 12:7.

“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.”

A messenger of Satan was given to Paul, to buffet him in the flesh.

Was Paul an evil man?

It is clear from these scriptures that the “evil man” that the writer of Proverbs 17:11 is referring to is not our human idea of an evil man; on the contrary, the “evil man” here refers to the flesh. In essence, therefore, this scripture addresses all of us, for we are all carnal. If you thought you were good or holy, the Bible says no, you are “evil”. You haven’t become good until you meet with that cruel messenger. If you haven’t met him yet, get prepared; it is God’s will that he be sent… to buffet you!

With regard to his candidacy for meeting the cruel messenger, Paul states in Romans 7:14:

“… I am carnal, sold under sin.”

And again, in Romans 7:21-23:

“21 I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. 22 For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: 23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.”

Do we not all experience this? We are at war! And the cruel messenger has been sent our way. Strangely enough, he has been sent to help us win this war.

Who is the cruel messenger then?

The cruel messenger is the cross. The cross was set up against Paul’s carnal nature, for Paul’s carnal nature was evil.

We read in Romans 8:7-8:

“7 Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. 8 So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.”

In his case, therefore, scripture had to be fulfilled:

“An evil man seeketh only rebellion: therefore a cruel messenger shall be sent against him.”

In order for Paul to do the will of God and please Him fully, God put him under this cruel messenger. Unscribed in the ways of God, Paul prayed to God thrice to have this messenger taken away from him, but God told him:

“My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:9)

In other words, God was telling Paul, “Paul, you cannot serve me as you are. But that thorn will constantly keep your flesh under, for your flesh only wants to rebel. That cross will produce the grace needed to bear fruit for Me.” (Rom. 7:4)

In 2 Corinthians 4:12, the Apostle Paul tells the Corinthians just as much concerning what the cross accomplished in his life :

“So then death worketh in us, but life in you.”

When the cross worked death in the apostles’ lives, life came to the church!

It is the same today. The problem with the church today is that there is a huge number of people calling themselves apostles and prophets. But death is not working in these people! Their condition is exactly as it was with the false ministers of Paul’s day. Paul spoke of the ministers of his day thus:

“For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ.” (2 Cor. 11:13)

Why?

Paul tells of what they were doing to the church.

“For ye suffer, if a man bring you into bondage, if a man devour you, if a man take of you, if a man exalt himself, if a man smite you on the face.” (v.20)

This is exactly what is happening in church today. These so-called apostles and prophets are doing these same things to God’s people!

“Smite you on the face” means to degrade, to demean, to humiliate. Just as in Paul’s day, today’s false apostles and prophets are doing extremely inhumane things to God’s people. Every kind of evil is being done against God’s people by ungodly men who are in actual fact ravenous wolves dressed in sheep’s clothing. The Swahili Bible uses the word “cruel”. It calls them “cruel wolves”.

Indeed, there is probably more cruelty going on in the church than in the world. But, just as in Paul’s day, people are thronging to these crude ‘ministries’. Wonders.

Because the church today is largely under the influence of these false apostles and prophets, there is no life left in much of today’s church. Everywhere, God’s people are suffering terribly, and they are in deep mourning.

Is there no balm in Gilead?

Thank God, there is. Let’s recap again to our key scripture in Ephesians chapter 3 and verse 5.

“…Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit”.

Notice,

“holy apostles and prophets”.

The key lies in the word “holy”. God’s Holy Spirit will minister the true gospel only through holy apostles and prophets. These are they who will preach and live the singular gospel that the Apostle Paul preached:

“Jesus Christ and him crucified” (2 Cor. 2:2).

Unfortunately, the church has always had unholy ministers, and these nearly always outnumber the holy ones. But we are to be on the look-out. Jesus said,

“15 Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. 16 Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? 17 Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.”

Jesus was talking about entering into God’s Kingdom through the narrow gate; and here He declares that false ministers will not live a life that reflects this lifestyle. They will live the high and sinful life.

It is hardly surprising, therefore, that these false ministers have not the vaguest idea of the gospel of the cross, which was the singular gospel that the apostles preached. They preach

“another Jesus”; “another spirit”; “another gospel” (2 Cor. 11:4).

They preach the prosperity gospel. I heard one of them say, “I am a billionaire.” A billionaire preacher of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Another has jets (“Jets, with an ‘s’!”, effused the reporter). Etc, etc. Incredible.

Others skirt the prosperity gospel but carry equally demonic doctrines. But any other gospel, apart from the revelation of the cross, is not the gospel of Jesus Christ.

And Jesus told us to beware of all these fellows.

“Beware of false prophets”.

This is a responsibility the church must bear. You cannot just say of your pastor, “Oh, I did not know his life.” How can you not know your pastor’s life? If you have no access to your pastor, stop going to that church. You should have access right into his bedroom (it could be that’s where he beats his wife).

Jesus gave us the responsibility to know what those who minister to us are carrying in their hearts.

“Ye shall know them by their fruits.”

False apostles and prophets have not been granted the revelation of the cross. They will preach and live other things altogether.

God’s people today need to desire and to heed the gospel of the cross which has been revealed to God’s holy apostles and prophets . Otherwise, there is no end to the spiritual grief they will endure and, in the end, most likely miss heaven altogether because they have been led along the wide and broad way.

[Another of my favorite dishes in the villages: freshly boiled pumpkins]

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The Gospel vs The Flesh

Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers… 1 Pet. 1:18

The story goes that an Englishman, a Frenchman and a Ghanaian were flying on a plane and they were required to jump out when they arrived in their respective countries. When the Englishman saw the Wembley Stadium, he jumped out. When the Frenchman saw the Eiffel Tower or the Seine River (can’t remember which), he also strapped himself and jumped out.

The plane crossed the Mediterranean Sea and, upon sighting land, the Ghanaian put out his hand. A short while later, he announced to the pilot that he had reached his country. The pilot asked him what he had seen.

The Ghanaian replied that he had seen nothing; but his wristwatch had just disappeared from his hand.

Sadly, it is true that you can have your watch popped off your hand or your pocket picked at any minute in darkest Africa; and you should be thoroughly shocked.

In a related issue – to put the icing on that story –  the U.S. president, President Donald Trump, has directed that only 15% of aid will go to African countries because they don’t know how to manage resources.

Is he rrrrrrrrright on that one? Of course he is right. The African’s ingenuity in some arenas of life excels even himself.

These are not just stereotypes about the African; these are facts. Broad generalizations, given; but facts nonetheless. I know there are people who will burst a vein when they hear such things. But everything we are hearing from Trump & co. about the African is hardly news.

Notice that in our story there is nothing unbecoming written about the two white men. If you are thinking they are angels, you couldn’t be more wrong! I have never been outside Africa, but I do not need to travel beyond my house to know that the white man is as rotten as the African is. Indeed, in God’s eyes, every race under the sun is equally rotten. The Bible tells me so.

“For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).

The only difference between the white man, the black man, the Chinese, the Indian, the Arab and any other race that might be on this earth is the diversity, or variety of rot. But it is all rot nonetheless. Whether they are white, black, brown or yellow, we all know what man is capable of. Since this is not a competition, I am not going to write down a list of the evils these other races excel in.  But, given the genetic factors that they possess, it is a given that, in their particular realms, some of these races are infinitely much more dangerous than the African.

These racial and tribal tendencies in men the Bible calls “vain conversation”. This “vain conversation” is who we are. And when the Bible says that we have received it by tradition from our fathers, it means that we have inherited them from our fathers’ gene pools.

Scripture makes it clear that each race/tribe has its own peculiar brand of rot. When the Apostle Paul left Titus in Crete, he warned him,

“12 One of themselves, even a prophet of their own, said, The Cretians are alway liars, evil beasts, slow bellies. 13 This witness is true. Wherefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith” (Tit. 1:12-13).

The spiritual language for culture is flesh. Man is a product of the flesh. I see “vain conversation” all around me – in my own life, in the lives of my wife and children and in the lives of those who surround me.

Man in his intelligence has tried various methods to try and suppress his cultural tendencies and in most cases it appears as if he has won the battle. But “vain conversation” runs deep. Deep in our subterranean consciousnesses, the flesh reigns supreme.

But I love what the Bible says in Colossians 3:9-11:

“9 … seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds; 10 And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him: 11 Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all.” (Col. 3:9-11)

That ought to suffice. There is only one weapon that can defeat the flesh: it is the cross. We cannot undo the flesh in us; only Jesus can, through the cross.

Through “Christ crucified” (1 Cor. 1:23), the Bible says we have put off our old man and put on Christ. That means we have put on Christ’s character. That’s why it is not enough to say “I am saved”. We need to go ahead and realize the mystery of “Christ crucified” in our lives.

Putting on the character of Jesus is the greatest miracle that can happen to a man. May we (the church) humble ourselves under the cross of Christ and allow it to break us and to form Christ in us. That way, we will not exhibit the works of the flesh. Instead we will bear and show off in our lives the fruit of the Spirit.

“22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, 23 meekness, temperance…” (Gal. 5:22-23)

[We reveal the character of Christ in us when we crucify the flesh]

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True Goodness – Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

25 For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls. 1 Pet. 19-25

Long time ago, when I was about 8 or 9, my brothers and I used to go down to our grandmother’s farm where a little stream passed by. We loved to go down there and play in the water. The stream was too small even to swim in but, one day, as we were by the stream, my elder brother John announced to us that he intended to swim all the way up to wherever that “river” originated from. The stream came from a swamp quite some distance away.

We crossed our hearts in awe as we envisioned the undertaking John was about to engage in. He would be crossing steep ravines and fighting currents of every sort.

He quickly took off his clothes and before you could say “Abracadabra!”, he was in the water. Head down and arms flying like rotors, he beat away furiously at the water.

After about half a minute of this energetic exercise, he pulled up his head and asked, “Where am !?”

I still recall the answer we gave him. We told him, “You are still right here with us.”

He hadn’t moved an inch. The river was too small to even manouver in.

I am going to use this analogy to share with my readers one of the greatest lessons that the Lord has taught me to date. That we can do so many things that are “thankworthy” and “acceptable” – but not before God. That we can do so much good in this world for but, when we get to heaven, we find ourselves standing empty-handed before the Lord.

Why? Because, somehow, we evaded that all-important thing in our lives: “suffering”. We never allowed ourselves to endure suffering.

It is this suffering that I want to talk of at length here.

19 For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. 20 For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God.

I want us to consider verses 19 and 20 and, in particular, the two words “thankworthy” and “acceptable”.

To whom does the word “thankworthy” refer to? In other words, who is thanking who here? Or, put differently: Who is commending who here?

Actually, verse 20 qualifies verse 19. In this verse, we read that if we suffer patiently for the sake of Christ, this is acceptable with God.

Imagine that. Imagine doing something that is acceptable with God. Imagine being commended by God. Imagine being thanked by God.

In my lifetime, I have met many very good people. Truly wonderful people. People who would die for you.

But, in these verses, the Bible draws a clear line between what is good, commendable, thankworthy or acceptable with man; and what is with God.

The two are as far apart as night is from day.

[It is not the good we do that God looks at, but our patience in suffering]

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Giving For A Spiritual Reward

10 But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at the last your care of me hath flourished again; wherein ye were also careful, but ye lacked opportunity.

11 Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.

12 I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.

13 I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.

14 Notwithstanding ye have well done, that ye did communicate with my affliction.

15 Now ye Philippians know also, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church communicated with me as concerning giving and receiving, but ye only.

16 For even in Thessalonica ye sent once and again unto my necessity.

17 Not because I desire a gift: but I desire fruit that may abound to your account.

18 But I have all, and abound: I am full, having received of Epaphroditus the things which were sent from you, an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, wellpleasing to God.

19 But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus. Phil. 4:10-19

I love Paul’s singularly spiritual focus. The Bible says:

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Heb. 11:1)

The Apostle Paul had true faith. He did not see things that are seen, but rather, things that are unseen. He did not touch or talk of the substance of things that are seen but, rather, things that are hoped for!

In our key scripture, notice he talks of

fruit that may abound to your account.”

The sole reason that Paul rejoices over the Philippians giving is for the fruit that would abound to their account. So, what is the fruit, and what is the account? The fruit is no doubt spiritual fruit, and the account is a heavenly one. Jesus told the rich young ruler:

“If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.” (Mat. 19:21)

Jesus did not talk of this world, nor of any hope in this world. He talked consistently about His Father’s heavenly Kingdom. When Paul, therefore, who was a follower of Jesus talks of “fruit” and “account” he is referring to these things in the Spirit.

On the contrary, when we are walking in the flesh, we think of and refer to these things in the natural. We think in terms of money, houses, lands,  jobs, promotion, marriage, children and all the other natural blessings that we can receive from God. And this is what the church is filled with today. Preachers are directing God’s people to these things instead of to the spiritual things. We serve God to receive natural rewards! Today, giving in church is all tied to receiving in the natural! But the Apostle Paul writes:

“If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable” (1 Cor. 15:19)!

If all we can see are the things of this world, the church cannot be said to be pleasing God because the Bible says that we can only please God when we are walking in faith and, as we just saw,

“…faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

Faith sees in the Spirit; the flesh does not. When we are spiritual, like Paul was, we can see and direct God’s people to a spiritual reward. Here in this world, we can see (in the Spirit) the grace that will be ours as a result of giving of our lives; and beyond that, we can have hope of a heavenly reward.

[When we see in the Spirit, it means we can see beyond the curve of time, literally]

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A Heart For God’s People

10 But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at the last your care of me hath flourished again; wherein ye were also careful, but ye lacked opportunity.

11 Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.

12 I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.

13 I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.

14 Notwithstanding ye have well done, that ye did communicate with my affliction.

15 Now ye Philippians know also, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church communicated with me as concerning giving and receiving, but ye only.

16 For even in Thessalonica ye sent once and again unto my necessity.

17 Not because I desire a gift: but I desire fruit that may abound to your account.

18 But I have all, and abound: I am full, having received of Epaphroditus the things which were sent from you, an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, wellpleasing to God. Phil. 4:10-18

Ever heard of aliens? Well, there is no such thing as an alien. At least, that is my belief. But there is a new kind of ‘alien’ that we are going to learn about today.

During our recent regional CTMI conference (www.ctmi.org) in Dar es Salaam, the speaker, Brother Miki, quoting from 1 Peter 2:9 said, “A new race of people arose in the world when Jesus died and rose from the grave. A new race of people, saved by the precious blood of Jesus Christ. It is called the Christian race.”

I was sitting there and my mind was moving super-fast. I began thinking, This was a race that is not white, black, Asiatic, nor Arabic. You won’t find this race among all the races in the world. It will never be found there. It is a race of people that is alien to this world. It is indeed, as the scriptures say, a “peculiar people”.

It is in this light that we can appreciate Paul’s words in the scripture above. It is also in this light that I personally find it hard to count myself as a part of this peculiar race. How could I attempt to compare myself with this man who did something so unbelievably extraordinary?

And what is it, pray, that the Apostle Paul did that was so extraordinary?

The portion of scripture that answers this question is in verse 17:

“Not because I desire a gift: but I desire fruit that may abound to your account.”

Once you understand what Paul is saying here, you will understand that this was a man who was truly in a class of his own, spiritually speaking. In simple words, the apostle here is saying that he wanted the Philippians to give; but not for the reasons that many of us would be thinking of.

Paul had only one reason to want the Philippians to continue giving. The reason he rejoiced for their giving, he says, was because

“I desire fruit that may abound to your account.” (v. 17)

The reason I say I am not in Paul’s league is because  whenever I have a need I always think of the shortest way to have that need met. And if a brother or sister comes to my aid, I will tell them, “God bless you”. But more often than not my “God bless you” is my selfish way of saying, “Thank God the need has been met” rather than a sincere desire to see the brother or sister blessed in the Spirit.

But God’s sacrificial love is revealed in the Apostle’s life in two ways here. In the first place, even though Paul had needs, he did not think of himself in time of receiving. On the contrary, he thought about the giver. He rejoiced, not on his account, but on their account. He rejoiced, not because he was receiving, but because they would be receiving!

Secondly, the Apostle Paul desired spiritual blessings for God’s people. He rejoiced because he knew that as they gave materially, they would be receiving spiritually.

Today many preachers will tell you to give in order that you might receive a material reward in return. I heard one preacher say, “If you do not pay your tithes, you will not be fed!” Fed, presumably by God. Wow!!

Today, the Name of God is blasphemed all over the world because of preachers of the gospel who do not have a heavenly agenda. A preacher who only has an earthly agenda is the most dangerous living thing alive. Seriously. This man or woman will take God’s people down the road of destruction for he or she will show them only how to prosper materially. Moreover, all he or she is thinking is how he can gain from them. He does not have their spiritual interests at heart.

But the Apostle Paul had the spiritual interests of God’s people at heart. And it is here, in this scripture, that God’s heart for His people is revealed: it is a heart that desires for us to get hold of the heavenly vision, and a heavenly reward, not an earthly one.